Pence says federal agencies could take over response in coming weeks as Trump acknowledges ‘some people will be affected badly’
Donald Trump is preparing to wind down the White House coronavirus taskforce even as the US death toll has topped 70,000 and experts warn that the worst is yet to come.
Mike Pence, the vice-president and taskforce chair, said on Tuesday that coordination of the pandemic response could be transferred back to federal agencies in late May or early June.
But in the wake of a leaked internal White House report suggesting that the daily US death toll will climb to 3,000 per day by June, the move is likely to fuel concerns that Trump has all but abandoned a public health strategy in favour of economic imperatives.
“I’m not saying anything is perfect, and yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes,” Trump said during a trip to Arizona – a battleground state in the 2020 presidential election – on Tuesday. “But we have to get our country open, and we have to get it open soon.”
In an interview with David Muir of ABC News on Tuesday evening, Trump was asked directly: “Do you believe it’s the reality we’re facing, that lives will be lost to reopen the country?”
The president said: “It’s possible there will be some because you won’t be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is, but at the same time we’re going to practise social distancing, we’re going to be washing hands, we’re going to be doing a lot of the things that we’ve learned to do over the last period of time. And we have to get our country back.”
A prolonged shutdown, Trump added, came with its own costs in terms of increased drug use and suicide.
Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state and 2016 presidential candidate, tweeted: “It appears the plan is, shamefully, to have no plan. Americans will suffer. We must replace this administration in November.”
David Axelrod, former chief strategist for Barack Obama, added on Twitter: “If you can’t shut down the virus, shut down the taskforce.”
Pence was responding on Tuesday to questions about a New York Times report that said officials in the Trump administration were telling the 22 taskforce members and their staff to expect the group to be phased out within weeks.