White House Names Ambassador Deborah Birx As Additional COVID-19 Leader; Congress Moves Quickly To Agree On Emergency Spending

Financial Times: Mike Pence’s role as U.S. coronavirus overseer draws backlash
“Far from allaying concerns about his administration’s readiness for coronavirus, Donald Trump’s appointment of Mike Pence to lead Washington’s response to the global outbreak has drawn swift backlash from health experts and Democratic lawmakers. A day after tapping his vice president for the role amid growing concerns about the disease’s global spread, Mr. Trump was facing another punishing sell-off on Wall Street that plunged stock market indices into correction territory — a sign that investors had further soured on the White House’s ability to contain the health crisis…” (Politi/Weaver, 2/27).

The Hill: Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding
“Lawmakers are moving quickly to try to pass emergency coronavirus funding before a mid-March break, with negotiators eyeing finalizing an agreement by early next week. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) are negotiating an emergency spending package…” (Carney, 2/27).

The Hill: Pence bolsters coronavirus team following criticism
“The Trump administration on Thursday sought to bolster its coronavirus response team in the face of criticism of Vice President Mike Pence’s qualifications to lead the effort. The White House spent Thursday adding officials to its coronavirus task force to report to Pence amid sustained skepticism over its preparedness for a possible outbreak. ..” (Weixel/Samuels, 2/28).

POLITICO: After fumbled messaging, Trump gets a coronavirus czar by another name
“…The new role will put Ambassador Debbie Birx, who has served since 2014 as the U.S. government’s leader for combating HIV/AIDS globally, at the center of what now appears to be three leaders of the government response. Trump revealed in a news conference Wednesday evening that Pence would head up the administration’s management of the coronavirus, overseeing a task force nominally led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Birx will report to Pence but serve on the task force that Azar chairs…” (Cancryn et al., 2/27).

TIME: The Trump Administration’s Many Vacancies Could Complicate its Coronavirus Response
“…In addition to bringing Dr. Birx into the White House, Pence also beefed up his team by adding Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, and Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow. But many top positions across the government that could play a role in coordinating the government’s efforts to prepare for coronavirus remain empty. Birx’s appointment was necessary in part because Trump had eliminated a National Security Council office dedicated to managing pandemics in May 2018…” (Bergengruen/Bennett, 2/27).

Washington Post: Trump says he can bring in coronavirus experts quickly. The experts say it is not that simple.
“The White House official charged with leading the U.S. response to deadly pandemics left nearly two years ago as his global health security team was disbanded. Federal funding for preventing and mitigating the spread of infectious disease has been repeatedly threatened since President Trump’s election. Despite the mounting threat of a coronavirus outbreak in the United States, Trump said he has no regrets about those actions and that expertise and resources can be quickly ramped up to meet the current needs…” (Reinhard et al., 2/27).

Additional coverage of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 outbreak response is available from AP, CNN, Endpoints, Forbes, The Hill (2), NPR, New York Times, Reuters (2), Roll Call, and Washington Post (2).