Democrats struggle to keep up with Trump messaging on coronavirus

Congressional Democrats are facing enormous pressure to show voters they are staying engaged and taking action to combat the deadly coronavirus pandemic during a critical election year. 

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHoyer: House should vote on COVID-19 aid — with or without a bipartisan deal Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose at Supreme Court McCarthy threatens motion to oust Pelosi if she moves forward with impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) has launched a new special House committee to oversee trillions of dollars in emergency spending, while other top Democrats are pushing legislation to create a separate 9/11-style commission looking into whether the government properly responded to the outbreak. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish Senate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Schumer interrupted during live briefing by heckler: 'Stop lying to the people' MORE (D-N.Y.) is aggressively pressing President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE to appoint a “czar” to oversee the production and distribution of coronavirus-related medical supplies — a move that has rankled the president.


And rank-and-file Democrats are getting creative to make sure their constituents know they are working on the crisis — even as they hunker down with their families at home.

Freshman Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), Haley StevensHaley Maria StevensUS Chamber of Commerce set to endorse 23 House freshman Democrats Eric Esshaki wins Michigan GOP primary to challenge Haley Stevens The Hill's Campaign Report: Buzz builds around Warren for VP MORE (D-Mich.) and Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinWray: Racially motivated violent extremism makes up most of FBI's domestic terrorism cases Overnight Defense: House chair announces contempt proceeding against Pompeo | Top general says military has no role in election disputes | Appeal court rejects due process rights for Gitmo detainees Top general: Military will play no role in resolving any electoral dispute MORE (D-Mich.) are among those who’ve held telephone town halls on the coronavirus in recent days, while progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezWells Fargo CEO issues apology after saying there was a 'limited pool of Black talent' Brand responds to Trump claim protesters throw tuna cans at police: 'Eat em, don't throw em' CNN's Don Lemon: 'Blow up the entire system' remark taken out of context MORE (D-N.Y.) has been answering coronavirus questions on Facebook Live, Instagram stories, Zoom and other social media platforms.

Rep. Max RoseMax RoseLawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep Navy cancels training flight over NYC on 9/11 after criticism MORE (D-N.Y.), who flipped a GOP-held seat in Staten Island in 2018, is taking things a step further. The decorated Afghanistan War veteran deployed to the National Guard, where he is helping to build overflow field hospitals in the New York region that’s become ground zero for the coronavirus. 

“When I'm a member of Congress, the generals call me ‘sir.’ But when I'm in uniform, I'm just a lowly captain,” Rose told reporters before his deployment. “So I'm going into this with no illusions of grandeur — just to do my small part and do my duty.”

The Democrats’ efforts come as Trump has used his bully pulpit to dominate headlines and the air waves, particularly with the daily White House briefing on the crisis.


He and his coronavirus task force — comprised of Vice President Pence, National Institute for Allergy and Infections Diseases Director Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: Health officials tell public to trust in science | Despair at CDC under Trump influence | A new vaccine phase 3 trial starts Health officials tell public to trust in science Fauci scolds Rand Paul during tense exchange at hearing MORE and other medical experts — have held daily press briefings, which have attracted millions of television viewers. 

That’s put congressional Democrats and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Democratic groups using Bloomberg money to launch M in Spanish language ads in Florida Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle MORE, the party’s likely presidential nominee, at a disadvantage as they try to protect their House majority and flip control of the Senate and White House. 

Home on a lengthy recess, lawmakers have spent the past week touting the passage of their historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus health bill — the largest such emergency rescue package in history. But with more than 10 million people filing for unemployment benefits and a death toll in the thousands, lawmakers are now racing to demonstrate they will be part of a months-long, sustained battle against COVID-19. 

Pelosi has been making the media rounds — including MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” CNBC and CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen ColbertStephen Tyrone ColbertColbert implores Pelosi to update 'weaponry' in SCOTUS fight: 'Trump has a literal heat ray' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy Juan Williams: Democrats need to bury their divisions MORE” — to push for a fourth stimulus bill, though that proposal has shifted in recent days from an economic recovery package to yet another emergency one as the crisis has worsened.

She’s done those interviews from the Capitol, a subtle signal to viewers that work is continuing in Washington even with nearly all of her members back home.


The Speaker is also trying to ensure that the trillions in aid from the first three coronavirus packages are being spent appropriately. Last week, she appointed House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a close ally of Biden, to chair a new special bipartisan committee to provide oversight of the coronavirus spending. Republicans panned the Pelosi committee, arguing that the bipartisan package already created a panel to oversee bailout funds.   

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDemocratic leaders: Supreme Court fight is about ObamaCare Pelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief Races heat up for House leadership posts MORE (D-N.Y.) and other leaders also have been holding near-daily conference calls with rank-and-file members on various coronavirus issues, from stimulus checks and food security to housing. Some members said they are particularly worried that unemployment benefits and low-interest loans were not getting out quickly enough to out-of-work constituents and shuttered small businesses in their districts due to an inundated IRS and Small Business Administration.

Letters sent to the Trump administration have been popular, too. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenCongress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Mid-Atlantic states sue EPA over Chesapeake Bay pollution MORE (D-Md.) and 15 other Senate Democrats sent a letter to Defense Department officials calling for a probe into whether the captain of the U.S.S Theodore Roosevelt was fired after sounding the alarm about a COVID-19 outbreak on his ship.

Democrats are flexing their oversight muscles in other ways as well. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonHouse panel pans ICE detention medical care, oversight Senate to hold nomination hearing for Wolf next week Hillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers MORE (D-Miss.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffPelosi, Democrats unveil bills to rein in alleged White House abuses of power Chris Matthews ripped for complimenting Trump's 'true presidential behavior' on Ginsburg Trump casts doubt on Ginsburg statement, wonders if it was written by Schiff, Pelosi or Schumer MORE (D-Calif.) have rolled out dueling legislation to create a 9/11-style bipartisan commission to investigate why the U.S. government was not prepared for the coronavirus pandemic and how the country can prevent an outbreak from happening again. 

Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyDemocrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Bank lobbying group launches ad backing Collins reelection bid House Democrats call on State Department for information on Uighur prisoner Ekpar Asat MORE (D-Fla.), a leader of the moderate Blue Dogs, and Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoThis week: House returns for pre-election sprint Hillicon Valley: Simulated cyberattack success | New bill for election security funding | Amazon could be liable for defective products Lawmakers introduce bill to help election officials address cyber vulnerabilities MORE (R-N.Y.), a leader of the centrist Tuesday Group, have authored the first bipartisan version of the coronavirus commission bill.   

“The general feeling I get from my colleagues now is that we were not ready. ... I am convinced that properly positioned, we should have had a better response to it. There should have been a functioning system to address the pandemic,” Thompson said in a phone interview from his district office in Bolton, Miss. 

“The messaging we were getting from the White House was not the same message we were getting from the CDC and other professionals,” he added. “For quite a few weeks, it was a series of misstatements and missteps. That was inconsistent in a time of emergency.”

Other House Democrats have joined Schumer in urging Trump to create a special post within the administration to evaluate the various supply needs around the country and manage the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“The problem that I see right now is we really ...  have to have some kind of centralization with regard to this PPE,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) told reporters this week. “So, I would like to have some, one person at the federal level who's in charge of this who's not only getting the stuff from overseas or whatever, but also getting the data to where this stuff is so that it can be redistributed.”

“We provided the money,” Pallone added. “It's really a question of distribution at this point and manufacturing a lot of this stuff, too.”

Mike Lillis and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.