Report: White House weighing whether to wind down coronavirus task force? Update: Blindsided?

A Twitter pal looks on the bright side of the news: “really this is just transitioning from a group of people accomplishing nothing to no group of people accomplishing nothing.”


I’ve made that point before. What does the coronavirus task force do at this point? They’ve already organized the manufacture of ventilators. They developed a model projecting up to 240,000 deaths from the epidemic. They produced federal guidelines for reopening states that are being mostly ignored. They used to hold a daily briefing but that’s on hiatus. Trump seems to have concluded that to the extent America needs to massively increase testing and contact tracing, that’s the states’ job, not his. He has more important things to do with his time, like tweeting about the Lincoln Project.

The federal government, particularly the president, appears to have decided that its role in managing a once-in-a-century pandemic is largely over. So why keep up a pretense to the contrary? Let Fauci and Birx go advise state coalitions on the messy, tedious work of saving people’s lives.

They won’t disband the task force. My guess is they’ll just downsize it to the “doctors’ group” that already exists within the broader task force, with occasional briefings from them. Dissolving it at the very moment the country’s watching anxiously to see if deaths begin to spike as states open back up would be so heinous a PR debacle that it might cost Trump the presidency if a second wave of the disease materialized, like the captain leaving the bridge just as the sea got stormy. Democrats would feast on it for months. Trump may be too psychologically detached from the concerns of ordinary people to grasp that, but his advisors aren’t.


It is not clear whether any other group might replace the task force. But its gradual demise, which officials said might never be formally announced, would only intensify the questions about whether the administration is adequately organized to address the complex, life-and-death decisions related to the virus and giving adequate voice to scientists and public health experts in making policy…

A top adviser to Vice President Mike Pence who has helped oversee the task force, Olivia Troye, has told senior officials involved in the task force to expect the group to wind down within weeks, a notice echoed by other top White House officials. While the task force met Tuesday at the White House, Monday’s meeting was canceled, and a Saturday session, a staple of recent months, was never held…

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, said the task force will be winding down as the White House moves toward Phase One of Mr. Trump’s plan to “open up” the country. The focus now will be on therapeutics, vaccine development and testing, the official said.

Says Amanda Carpenter, “If Trump is a wartime President against the virus, this is surrender.” That’s exactly how it would be perceived.

I’m keen to know how the idea of dissolving the task force got rolling within the White House, even at the pure suggestion stage. Who thought the country would respond well to the prospect of Fauci and Birx being sidelined as lockdowns are easing and Americans are being asked to take a leap of faith back into something approximating business as usual? Most of us grasp that the two tracks of the federal response, public health and economic revival, need to operate in parallel. Scrapping the task force as the economic track gets rolling would seem to confirm the suspicions of Trump critics that the economy is a much, much higher priority for him than saving lives, which is not how most Americans prioritize.


Biden will use that perception of callousness to destroy him. I can’t believe Team Trump would make it that easy for him.

If they really do disband the task force, all that’ll be left is Jared’s task force of corporate volunteers/college buddies. They’re doing their best, but guess what happens when you enlist unexperienced people to manage an unprecedented mobilization of a specialized industry like public health.

The document alleges that the team responsible for PPE had little success in helping the government secure such equipment, in part because none of the team’s members had significant experience in health care, procurement or supply-chain operations. In addition, none of the volunteers had existing relationships with manufacturers or a clear understanding of customs requirements or Food and Drug Administration rules, according to the complaint and two senior administration officials…

Supply-chain volunteers were instructed to fast-track protective equipment leads from “VIPs,” including conservative journalists friendly to the White House, according to the complaint and one senior administration official…

The team of volunteers focused on PPE had trouble developing manufacturer relationships and making inroads with brokers, in part because they were using personal email accounts, rather than official government email addresses, the House Oversight Committee complaint states. Three senior administration officials confirmed the volunteers’ use of personal email addresses.

Why is the president’s son-in-law, whose background is in real estate, managing the White House’s procurement of PPE for doctors and nurses? We could spitball answers to that question. Trump doesn’t trust anyone outside his family; or Trump, being a populist, believes talented amateurs can do a job better than career bureaucrats; or Trump has so decimated the ranks of skilled people in his administration by firing them or alienating them that he has no choice but to turn to Jared. None of those are good answers, though. In fact, the question is so absurd that just posing it to voters will give Democrats an advantage in the fall. Why is the president’s son-in-law, whose background is in real estate, managing the White House’s procurement of PPE for doctors and nurses? It’d be like Hillary putting Chelsea’s husband in charge of containing some Chernobyl-like meltdown at a nuclear power plant.


Anyway, they’re not disbanding the task force.

As I say, I think they’re going to end up shrinking it, probably to just public health experts — which is A-OK provided that those experts don’t lose all of their influence over policy relative to advisors who are pushing to reopen the economy at all costs. Which I assume they will. Is the task force being downsized for efficiency reasons or is it being downsized to marginalize the doctors in it?

Here’s the president earlier insisting that it’s time to go back to work.

Update: Looking back at Fauci’s denial, I’m wondering if he was blindsided by the news. Maybe no one mentioned *to him* that the task force is winding down, but that doesn’t mean it’s not winding down.

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