Pence: White House In ‘Preliminary Discussions’ On Winding Down Coronavirus Task Force

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Vice President Mike Pence told reporters on Tuesday that the White House is in “preliminary discussions” about plans to wind down the coronavirus task force and shift the public health response management to federal agencies by as early as June.

“I think we’re having conversations about that and about what the proper time is for the task force to complete its work and for the ongoing efforts to take place on an agency-by-agency level,” Pence told reporters at an off-camera limited briefing. “And we’ve already begun to talk about a transition plan with FEMA. But it’s — it really is all a reflection of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country.”

Pence, who leads the task force, added that “the timetable” to scale back the task force’s role to various government agencies would be by the end of the month, early June the latest. 

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“I think we’re starting to look at the Memorial Day window, early June window as a time when we could begin to transition back to having our agencies begin to manage — begin to manage our national response in a more traditional manner,” the vice president said. “And as I’ve said before, as we continue to practice social distancing and states engage in safe and responsible reopening plans, I truly believe–and the trend lines support it–that we could be in a very different place.”

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The Vice President comments followed a New York Times report that the White House’s plan to “gradual demise” the task force in the coming weeks. Sources told the Times that the medical experts who are members of the Pence-led task force would likely return to their respective departments and would continue to provide input on a more informal basis. 

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator who also was at the limited briefing, confirmed to reporters that they will continue to “keep a close eye” in reviewing and analyzing the data.

“We’ll still keep a close eye on the data because we have very good data now,” Dr. Birx said. “It took us a while to build that capacity.  And we’ll make sure that, you know, we’re watching that at a federal level.”

According to one senior administration official, the shift is meant to signal a new phase of the administration’s response as they start to focus on the development of a therapeutic treatment, vaccine development, and treatments for the virus.

The task force was formed in late January, with members including nearly two dozen officials from various government agencies meeting almost every day to coordinate the administration’s pandemic response. The task force, along with President Trump gave daily televised briefings on the pandemic during March and April, but were largely phased out after some states began transitioning on focusing to reopen their economy.

Trump, who ended the daily briefings last week told the New York Post in an exclusive interview on Monday, that he along with Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany “would continue” holding a briefing once or twice a week on the pandemic.

“You know, we didn’t stop them. I mean, this is breaking, this, but we didn’t stop them. Because we’ll probably do maybe one a week, sometimes two depending on the news, but Kayleigh’s going to be able to do them,” Trump said. “We’ll do them. We get a lot of people watching, and it’s the way that you get around fake news. In other words, I have a much bigger audience than anybody’s ever had.”