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What we know — and don’t know — about Trump’s task force to reopen the economy

The president’s council to reopen America may or may not include Ivanka and Jared.

Ivanka Trump looking at Donald Trump as he speaks.
Ivanka Trump looks on as her father delivers a coronavirus briefing at the White House in March 2020.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Governors on the East Coast and the West Coast have announced plans to coordinate reopening their economies, consulting health and economic development experts to guide their decisions. President Donald Trump is also putting together his own council to reopen the country’s economy. Among the advisers he might be tapping: his daughter, his son-in-law, and a commerce secretary who reportedly struggles to stay awake in meetings.

The president is expected to announce a new task force dedicated to reopening the country as soon as Tuesday, though what it will look like, what it will do, and who it will include remain unclear. It is expected to be headed by Mark Meadows, the former North Carolina Congress member who now serves as the president’s chief of staff.

Fox News released a partial list of potential members Monday, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and other Cabinet members. The outlet also reported that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law, would also be on the task force.

The inclusion of two of the president’s relatives and a handful of people with no expertise in economics or public health set Twitter on fire Monday afternoon:

At a press briefing later in the day on Monday, a reporter asked whether Ivanka and Jared would be on the task force, and the president said they would not. Donald Trump lies and exaggerates a lot, so we’ll find out whether they’re in it once it’s announced, but they’ve both been involved in the White House’s coronavirus response.

Buzz of this new task force began last week. (It will be in addition to the coronavirus response task force headed by Vice President Mike Pence.) Administration officials told the Washington Post that it would be a mix of private sector figures and top administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and economic adviser Larry Kudlow.

The name of the group is still being workshopped — at a Friday press briefing, Trump said he calls it the “Opening Our Country Task Force” or “Opening Our Country Council.” He said it will be comprised of “great business leaders” and “great doctors” and will probably be done by teleconference. When asked whether it would be bipartisan, Trump suggested maybe: “Bipartisan? I didn’t even ask. I mean, honestly, I think it’s bipartisan. The one thing I didn’t ask, ‘Are you Republican or a Democrat?’ Hard to believe, but I didn’t ask. So it would be. And I want their views on what they think.”

Who is in the group seems like that’s still being workshopped, too.

At the same Monday briefing, Mnuchin said that he had reviewed names of 100 business people who may be chosen for the council. Those people, who he said the White House wants to represent “every single area of the economy,” had not yet been invited.

As Politico notes, a lot of names have been floated for who might be on the task force over the past week, including economist Art Laffer, who Fox News host Sean Hannity suggested Trump should appoint, and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, a longtime Trump ally. Per Politico:

Laffer told Politico on Monday he had not heard from anyone at the White House about the group. And several lobbyists throughout Washington had not heard which, if any, companies would participate in the council. Some lobbyists had been urging CEOs to steer clear of joining the group, given concerns about whether its profile would be high enough for Fortune 500 executives. Other business leaders did not want to attract attention to their companies by joining the council during a national health emergency, after Trump went after 3M and General Motors by name in recent weeks.

The president has been eager to get the economy up and running again, sparking concerns he might buck the interests of public health to do so. He initially flirted with the idea of declaring the country back up and running on Easter Sunday but eventually backed off. The White House’s stay-at-home guidance now extends to April 30, and it could be extended again.

On Friday, Trump said he would “love” to open the country by May 1, but it’s not guaranteed. “I’m not determined anything. The facts are going to determine what I do. But we do want to get the country open. So important,” he said.

To be clear, Trump doesn’t have the authority to mandate the whole country’s economy be opened up for business again. Governors across the country have largely been the ones deciding what to do about coronavirus shutdowns in their respective states, and some have formed regional pacts to decipher the path forward together. But the president, of course, insists he’s calling the shots.

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