WASHINGTON – Less than a day after signaling the White House task force on coronavirus would be disbanded, President Donald Trump said Wednesday the group will "continue on indefinitely" and shift focus to reopening and manufacturing vaccines.
Trump's latest thinking on the task force, created in January to coordinate the response to the virus, came a day after Vice President Mike Pence and other officials said the group's work would be transferred to federal agencies as soon as this month. The idea drew fire from some critics who said it was too soon to disband the group.
But the president left both the composition of the task force and its focus murky. Trump said he may remove some members of the group and add others, though he did not indicate specifically who he had in mind. He said the group would focus more on "safety" and reopening the nation's economy, as well as vaccine production.
"The Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN," Trump posted in a series of tweets Wednesday. "The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics. Thank you!"
Speaking during a trip to Arizona on Tuesday, Trump appeared to link a decision to disband the group with his broader desire to reopen the nation and recharge its economy. Winding down the group, he suggested, would signal a new phase in the government's response to the virus.
"I'm viewing our great citizens of this country to a certain extent and to a large extent as warriors.They're warriors," Trump said when asked about the task force. "Will some people be affected, badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open."
Democrats and other critics blasted Trump's plan to reduce the scope of the task force on Tuesday, especially given the threat that death tolls would rise as states reopen businesses and other parts of their economies. The virus has killed more than 70,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins University.
While the number of new daily cases has slowed, it still remains high.
"President Trump waves the white flag of surrender and winds down his ‘task force,'" said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. "As the death toll soars, it is the task force that gets buried."
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential candidate, slammed the decision as a "true American tragedy" and predicted that "thousands will unnecessarily die" because of Trump's "contempt for science."