White House Watch: Welcome to the Virus Task Force

A visiting Iowan was in the Oval Office Wednesday and President Trump said, “I think you should be on the Task Force. Would you like to do that?” and so another day in the White House demonstrated that the mantra for everyone on the Wall Streets of the world, “Every day is a new day in the markets,” also applies to the top of the national government as well.

There is a sense of liberation in every trading room – or in the virtual trading room of scattered screens – before dawn breaks. As badly as you screwed up yesterday, you have a chance to redeem yourself today. A string of only a few good days can make a big difference for the entire year and determine the size of that year-end bonus – or alternatively there can be that last conversation with the boss.

Whether the president shares that exhilaration of limitless possibilities as he watches Fox & Friends every morning, to be reassured he is front and centre on the news agenda, can only be the subject of idle speculation. Not to feel confined by the decisions of the day before, confident in the knowledge everything can be redefined, reframed and spontaneously reinvented anew must be so much more agreeable than to be burdened by the past. So many presidential biographies tell of Oval Office predecessors through history weighed down by the gravity of presidential existence.

One important part of those limitless possibilities for this particular president is the recurring opportunity to showcase the power and majesty inherent in the office. There is no better way than to set the stage for a big decision, possibly the most important decision ever decided, or to show how you can make bureaucratic edifices appear and disappear with the wave of a hand, or two hands.

Would China be hit with additional tariffs as punishment for being slow to alert the world to the virus danger? Wait for next week’s announcement. Back in mid-April, it was to be the “biggest decision” of his presidency, whether to reopen the government. Stay tuned. In fact, that’s been one consistent message from the Oval Office, in capital letters, STAY TUNED.

The day before can be so distant, so out of focus. The president on Tuesday confirmed the stories that he was considering phasing out the Corona Virus Task Force. He repeated it when he was touring that Arizona mask factory – without a mask – as Guns N’ Roses “Live and Let Die” incongruously played in the background. As it does at MAGA rallies. We’ll skip Axel Rose’s tweet Wednesday about the Treasury secretary and Steven Mnuchin’s response. It’s a click or two away if you’re interested.

Back to the president. He’s doing what? Now?

Why on Earth get rid of a panel of medical expert advisers as new virus cases and deaths were still going up in 23 states? Because I can?

When Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the Task Force, seemed to confirm his group’s impending obsolescence he was only doing what everyone in the White House and in the administration is obliged to do, make whatever the president says seem to be a real thing. That’s certainly not new with this administration. That’s what being president has come to mean.

Was the Task Force ever going to be phased out? Something like a photon that is resolved into a particle from a wave, a White House declaration these days can be judged by its momentum or its plausibility but only time can tell if it exists as a three-dimensional object in the world of real outcomes.

In any event the episode served at least one purpose, though. It showed who makes things happen, or not happen, or seem to happen at any given moment. “I had no idea how popular the Task Force is until actually yesterday,” the president said as he observed National Nurses Day Wednesday. “When I started talking about winding it down, I’d get calls from very respected people saying, ‘I think it would be better to keep it going. It’s done such a good job.’”

He continued, “It’s a respected task force. It’s – I knew it myself; I didn’t know whether or not it was appreciated by the public, but it is appreciated by the public.”

And so it came to be that the Iowa Medical Director Caitlan Pedati, accompanying her boss Governor Kim Reynolds in the visit to the Oval Office, was invited on the spur of the moment to join the Corona Virus Task Force.

The governor and the president talked at length about being able to reopen Iowa’s non-essential businesses. “We’re at about 80 percent availability of vents and ICU beds,” the governor reassured the president, “And now really can start to open up Iowa in a responsible manner using the data that we have, knowing that our health care system won’t be overwhelmed, that we are at a position, in case we do see some type of a surge.”

Actually Iowa’s surge is already under way, much like in the other 22 states where the new cases of coronavirus are still rising.



Colin Lambert

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