But weighing the cruise ship question, Pence hesitated to act. The White House’s economic experts were worried about preemptively shuttering an industry that employed or subsidized hundreds of thousands of Americans — a message echoed by the cruise industry itself, which drives billions of dollars to the key swing state of Florida and is led by executives close to Trump.
As Pence and his new team carefully deliberated, weighed administration arguments and negotiated with the cruise industry, the virus spread unimpeded as each hour and day ticked by. It wasn’t just the cruise ship question. Other initiatives that were in the works when Pence replaced health secretary Alex Azar as the leader of the task force were placed on hold while the vice president pondered next steps.
“We definitely lost time,” said one health official familiar with the inner dealings of the task force. “How much, I can’t say … but it was disruptive to slam the brakes when we should’ve been going full speed ahead.”
How Pence approached the challenges of his first weeks on the job foreshadowed how he would pursue the next six months of the coronavirus crisis — the most important and hands-on role of his tenure.