WASHINGTON - Lawmakers from both parties have joined a task force to provide counsel to President Donald Trump and the White House on when to loosen public health restrictions and how to get the economy moving after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump and some of his allies have pushed for a faster lifting of restrictions, stressing that the economic ramifications of job losses and business closures could be worse than the loss of lives from the coronavirus. Public health officials have urged a more gradual approach to loosening social distancing guidelines and sending people back to work, school and daily life. They see a dramatic expansion of testing for the virus as a prerequisite to reopening businesses.
The White House dubbed the 97 lawmakers who make up the task force the “Opening Up America Again Congressional Group,” which includes more than enough senators to end debate on a bill and excludes just one Senate Republican, Utah’s Mitt Romney.
The group includes familiar Trump allies such as Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Lee Zeldin of New York, along with members of House GOP leadership, including Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise and Liz Cheney. Not in the mix are the Democratic leaders of key House committees such as Appropriations, Financial Services, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means, but the top Republicans on those panels are included. Just 35 senators didn’t make the White House list, including the ranking Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Finance; and Small Business committees.
One top Democrat who did make the task force, Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner, said in a statement that his highest priority would be “to ensure the federal government’s efforts to reopen our economy are bipartisan, data-driven, and based on the expertise of public health professionals.”
The lawmakers will make up just one of an array of advisory panels on the country’s economic future and how to reopen businesses, schools and more. On Tuesday, Trump announced that executives from various industries would be part of a council advising the White House on plans to reopen the economy.
Earlier Thursday, McCarthy confirmed his participation in the task force during a telephone press conference. “We all talked about working together,” the California Republican said of a bipartisan call with Trump and House members. “It was a very good call. . It was very productive.”