Speaking from the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon, Trump came close to admitting that his plans to dissolve the task force were a mistake.
“I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday,” Trump said. “When I started talking about winding it down, I got calls from very respected people saying, ‘I think it’d be better to keep it going. It’s done such a good job. It’s a respected task force.’ I knew it myself, but I didn’t know whether or not it was appreciated by the public, but it is appreciated by the public.”
Trump’s plans to wind down the task force, a team of health and government officials overseeing the U.S. response to COVID-19, were widely criticized as an attempt to shirk responsibility for the crisis by passing it onto state and local leaders, potentially shielding him from any blame over the country’s response in the lead-up to the November election.
Trump backed down from his plans Wednesday morning, tweeting that “the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN.”
He also said that he may “add or subtract people” from the committee. One of the additions is Iowa’s state epidemiologist, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, who accepted the offer from Trump on Wednesday.
Newly initiated White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany wouldn’t offer any details on whose idea it was to disband the task force. When a reporter asked her about it, she referred him to Trump’s other remarks and said the president “decided that the coronavirus task force is here to stay.”
Trump’s reversal comes after the task force had already reportedly started winding down. NBC News reported Tuesday that the task force had already stopped meeting every day and that the meetings it has held have been shorter.
Trump has linked the task force with the continued national economic shutdown ― something he is eager to change. When a reporter asked him Tuesday why he thought this was a good time to scale back the task force, Trump replied, “Well, because we can’t keep our country closed for the next five years.”