Pence delivers coronavirus task force report to Biden

Pence delivers coronavirus task force report to Biden
© Greg Nash

Former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceBennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump Heritage Foundation names new president Fewer than 4 in 10 say US is on right track: poll MORE on Wednesday delivered a comprehensive report to newly sworn in President Biden detailing the work of the White House coronavirus task force as Biden prepares to reshape aspects of the federal government’s pandemic response.

The 140-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, outlines the Trump administration’s pandemic response dating back to when China first reported a cluster of pneumonia cases originating in Wuhan. 

The report does not address any of the myriad controversies that surrounded the Trump administration’s pandemic response and in some cases hindered the U.S.’s ability to get the virus under control. Instead, it highlights various accomplishments surrounding the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the rapid development of a vaccine.

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“With two safe and effective vaccines developed in less than a year through Operation Warp Speed — a medical miracle — a bright light now shines at the end of the tunnel,” the report states. “A nationwide vaccination effort is underway, and every American has good reason to hope that our nation’s long period of trial and tribulation is finally coming to a close.”

Trump named Pence the head of the White House coronavirus task force on Feb. 26, when the United States had identified just 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The United States has reported the most cases of any country in the world as of Wednesday, with more than 24 million infections.

Pence chaired the task force, which consisted of several administration and public health officials. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFDA advisory panel scheduled to discuss Merck COVID-19 antiviral pill Feehery: Build back bipartisan Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Council on Mental Wellbeing — Merck asks FDA to authorize five-day COVID-19 treatment MORE, Deborah BirxDeborah BirxHouse COVID-19 panel questioning Deborah Birx Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response Fauci and Birx warned Scott Atlas was 'dangerous' MORE and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert RedfieldRobert RedfieldGottlieb says government's early COVID-19 response was a 'failure of vision' House Democrats expand probe into political interference into CDC during Trump administration Redfield says he thinks virus 'evolved' in lab to transmit better MORE were all part of the task force, as were economic officials such as Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Former Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report Menendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS MORE and White House adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE.

Pence led task force briefings throughout March, after which Trump became a more regular fixture and eventually overshadowed others at the podium. He would frequently veer off topic or clash with reporters who questioned the administration’s preparedness.

While the report is not explicitly authored by Pence, it mirrors the former vice president’s tone in its frequent praise of Trump despite his declining involvement in the pandemic response his final months in office. It credits Trump with cutting off travel from parts of China in January, a favorite talking point of the former administration.

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The report features praise from governors of both parties scattered throughout, with past comments from frequent Trump critics such as New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoEMILY's List announces early endorsement of Hochul Hochul jumps out to early lead in NY governor's primary: poll De Blasio privately says he plans to run for New York governor: report MORE (D) and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) when they expressed appreciation for federal help.

The focus of the report is overwhelmingly positive, painting a picture of an administration that rose to the challenge in combating the pandemic by rapidly scaling up production of testing and millions of pieces of PPE. At one point, it features a quote from Trump in which he boasts that the United States has performed more tests than any country in the world, a statistic experts have said is misleading given the country’s population.

The report highlighted the push to reopen the country’s schools for in-person learning, as well as efforts to keep the economy open amid the pandemic.

It does not, however, address or reflect on any of the missteps the administration made throughout 2020. The Trump administration’s response was marked by mixed messaging about the efficacy of masks, and the president himself frequently undercut or outright criticized his own public health officials.

Pence wrote a now infamous op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in June declaring, “There isn’t a coronavirus ‘second wave,’ ” an argument that has aged poorly as the country saw record-setting cases and deaths regularly over the past few weeks.

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The praise from governors does not note that Trump frequently antagonized them or called for certain states to be “liberated” from restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus.

And it does little to reckon with the dire situation the Biden administration now inherits. The country on Tuesday surpassed 400,000 coronavirus deaths, and health experts have warned that the situation may not improve in the immediate future as hospitals fill to capacity in some parts of the country.

Biden has vowed to make swift changes to the federal government’s response to the pandemic. He will take executive action on Wednesday to rejoin the World Health Organization and require masks be worn on federal property, while encouraging Americans to mask up for 100 days in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

The incoming administration must also work out initial kinks in the vaccine distribution process after the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed got two vaccines approved in record time, but faced challenges getting them to Americans.

Pence attended Wednesday’s inauguration to witness Biden’s swearing in. He called Vice President Harris last week to offer his congratulations and assistance more than two months after the election.

Last week, Pence held his final conference call with governors, where he vowed a smooth transition and called it one of the great honors of his life to have played a role in the pandemic response. A member of Biden’s transition team was on that call, according to a Pence aide.