On Wednesday, a group of Democratic members of Congress got a message from the White House: they were selected to join a bipartisan task force to advise President Trump on the process of reopening the country’s economy in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
That, however, is about the extent of what the Democrats were told—sparking a day of confusion for several offices on Capitol Hill as they tried to confirm details of what the task force was, when it would be announced, and who else would be on it, according to four congressional sources.
“The email was two sentences—that was the extent of what we knew,” said a staffer for a lawmaker named to the panel, who said the message was not framed as an invitation to join. “Is he just jamming us onto this thing,” the aide recalled wondering, “making it seem bipartisan when he didn’t ask anyone?”
“We were given scarce details, no guidance,” said another staffer.
On Thursday morning, Politico reported the identities of some of the lawmakers who were named to the panel, which included 13 Senate Democrats and nine House Democrats, along with several top GOP lawmakers in both chambers. There has been no formal announcement of the group—some staffers believed Trump would announce it during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing in the Rose Garden, but he did not—and lawmakers only began confirming their involvement with the group in statements Thursday morning.
“My highest priority on this task force will 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,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the first Democrat to publicly acknowledge the task force, in a statement on Thursday.
“As a member of this task force, I will do everything in my power to remind Donald Trump of his responsibility to protect public health,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), another named to the panel. “He needs to stop blaming others for his Administration’s failures, ensure universal access to testing and vastly expand contact tracing efforts… I wish Donald Trump had been as eager to prepare our country for this pandemic as he is to rush towards normalcy when his own experts are warning ‘we’re not there yet.’”
The White House convened separate conference calls with House and Senate members named to the panel on Thursday morning to provide more details about the advisory boards. But some invitations for a 10 o’clock call did not go out until late Wednesday night, and were tersely worded. “President Trump looks forward to speaking with the Representative tomorrow,” an invite viewed by The Daily Beast read.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Capitol Hill confusion comes as business leaders had a similar experience with the White House: when Trump touted “Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups” made up of business, labor, and other economic VIPs during a Tuesday night press briefing, it came as news to those who he named to the groups. One of those members, economist Art Laffer, told The Daily Beast he found out about his involvement in the White House group “when three to five friends started calling me to ask me about it.”