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 PelosiThe Memo: Trump leaves changed nation in his wake New York court worker arrested, accused of threats related to inauguration GOP Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene referred to Parkland school shooting as 'false flag' event on Facebook 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 SchumerNew York court worker arrested, accused of threats related to inauguration Schumer: Trump should not be eligible to run for office again McConnnell, McCarthy accept Biden invitation to pre-inauguration church service MORE (D-N.Y.) is aggressively pressing President TrumpDonald TrumpLil Wayne gets 11th hour Trump pardon Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Trump expected to pardon Bannon: reports 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 StevensDemocrats condemn 'lawlessness' amid Capitol chaos Democrat Haley Stevens hangs on to Michigan House seat Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night MORE (D-Mich.) and Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote Pelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker 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-CortezFacebook has no current plan to end the Trump suspension New York court worker arrested, accused of threats related to inauguration Ocasio-Cortez: Facebook, Zuckerberg 'bear partial responsibility' for insurrection MORE (D-N.Y.) has been answering coronavirus questions on Facebook Live, Instagram stories, Zoom and other social media platforms.

Rep. Max RoseMax RoseWe lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money COVID-19 is wild card as Pelosi faces tricky Speaker vote Sunday Yang files to open campaign account for NYC mayor 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 FauciSlew of Biden orders on COVID to include resuming WHO membership Biden to sign flurry of executive actions in first hours of presidency COVID-19 is a precursor for infectious disease outbreaks on a warming planet 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 BidenTrump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Scalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration Sidney Powell withdraws 'kraken' lawsuit in Georgia 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 ColbertCan the GOP break its addiction to show biz? Colbert asks Republicans 'have you had enough?' in live show after Capitol violence Late-night hosts announce plans to discuss Capitol violence 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 JeffriesUS Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots Lawmakers mount pressure on Trump to leave office Sunday shows - Capitol siege, Trump future dominate 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 HollenRomney calls for Senate to pass sanctions on Putin over Navalny poisoning 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Trump administration finalizes rollback of migratory bird protections 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 ThompsonNew coalition aims to combat growing wave of ransomware attacks Acting DHS chief Chad Wolf stepping down Security boosted for lawmakers' travel around inauguration: report MORE (D-Miss.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffBiden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis Angus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Schiff says 'massive intelligence and security failure' led to Capitol breach 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 seize on GOP donor fallout Lobbying world Newspaper editorial board apologizes for endorsing Republican over support for Texas lawsuit MORE (D-Fla.), a leader of the moderate Blue Dogs, and Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoRep. John Katko: Why I became the first Republican lawmaker to support impeachment NY Republican says cybersecurity will be a high priority for Homeland Security panel Upton becomes first member of Congress to vote to impeach two presidents 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.