Leahy named to Trump’s council to reopen U.S. economy

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy speaks at a press conference at the Burlington International Airport in South Burlington on Thursday, December 26, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

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This story was updated at 2:25 p.m. to include an interview with Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has been appointed to President Donald Trump’s council to reopen the country’s economy, as the White House mulls federal guidelines to curb the economic fallout caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Leahy, who serves as vice chair of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, was named to the panel that also includes an eclectic list of industry groups, members of the president’s inner circle, and lawmakers of both parties.

“If the president is genuinely reaching out to listen to candid and diverse views on a decision that will profoundly affect millions of Americans for years to come, I look forward to sharing my views,” Leahy said in a statement Thursday. “They will be candid, and he knows if I disagree, I will tell him.” 

The aim of the new council is to advise Trump on how to restart the U.S. economy after measures to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus shut down non-essential businesses and instructed people to stay at home across the country.

At 11 a.m. Thursday, Leahy was already on a call with Trump discussing what reopening the American economy will look like, according to his office.

In an interview after the teleconference, Leahy said many different ideas came up with the president. Leahy added that he and other senators told the president there must be robust and widespread testing in place when states loosen restrictions.  

“It’s obvious the president wants to reopen and he’s getting pressure from some governors to do so,” Leahy said. “But there is an understanding that if we reopen too quickly it could be catastrophic.”

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“Listening to the president this morning, the complexity of the situation is hitting home,” he said.

Multiple outlets reported early Thursday that Trump plans to unveil guidelines later in the day for lifting Covid-19 restrictions and will brief governors from all 50 states during a 3 p.m. teleconference.

Leahy said he was unsure if Trump is open to considering the viewpoints he and other senators offered. 

“Maybe we’re getting somewhere but maybe it’s just symbolic,” he said. “I hope it’s not just symbolic.”

The president has said he would like to open up some state economies in the coming weeks and has stated that he has the authority to do so. But he has received push back on that timeline from business and bank executives, according to the New York Times.

State officials across the country are also attempting to chart a path forward to loosen some of the restrictions that have been in place for weeks, while continuing to try to reduce the spread of the virus.

On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott announced Vermont has joined a multi-state regional effort to coordinate responses to the coronavirus pandemic, and hinted that he will ease some business restrictions on Friday.

Leahy is one of more than 20 senators and a handful of House members who have been asked to join the president’s task force looking at the issue at the federal level.

“Decisions affecting the public health of the American people must reflect the economic distress and sacrifices that are being borne in communities across Vermont and the nation,” Leahy said. “To succeed, they must be based on facts and medical science, backed up with the necessary resources, or we risk plunging the nation into a deeper crisis down the road.” 

“In a spirit of optimism and goodwill, I look forward to working with the president and the other members of this council,” he added. 

Many in the congressional group had only been made aware of the council’s existence Wednesday. The White House sent emails notifying people of their selection and stated that the purpose of the group is to “provide counsel to the president on the reopening of America in the wake of Covid-19,” the New York Times reported.

Federal lawmakers are considering other steps toward safely loosening restrictions. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and four other Democrats have put forward a proposal called the Reopen America Act which would create a system by which the federal government would reimburse states for the cost of monitoring the novel coronavirus as they kickstart economic activities.

In an interview Wednesday, Welch said that if Trump rushes to reopen state economies, it could “unleash another explosion of spread.”

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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