HUD Secretary Ben Carson was recently appointed to the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The Task Force is charged with leading the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak. Since his appointment, Secretary Carson has had some awkward moments trying to explain the Task Force’s plans to keep the public safe.
President Trump charged The Task Force with taking the lead in monitoring, containing and mitigating the spread of the virus. It is supposed to make sure that Americans have the most accurate and current health and travel information. Task Force members include experts from the White House and several federal agencies, with some the country’s leading experts on infectious diseases.
President Trump originally named 12 members to the Task Force at the end of January. It was chaired by Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. As the Administration came under criticism for its uncoordinated response to the disease’s spread, the president put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the Task Force. Vice President Pence has since named several new members of the Task Force, including Secretary Carson.
The Task Force has been criticized because it had few medical professionals and more White House staff. It was also criticized for the lack of women or people of color. The vice president’s picks added four doctors, including Secretary Carson. Before getting into politics, Ben Carson was a renowned neurosurgeon. Pence also named Dr. Deborah Birx as the Task Force’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator. See the list below for all the members of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force.
Some initially wondered why Ben Carson was chosen to be on the Task Force. His medical expertise makes him qualified. As HUD Secretary, he is also responsible for providing healthy homes for millions of low-income Americans. This includes millions of seniors and persons with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. His loyalty to the president also probably played a role in selecting him.
Until Vice President Pence took over, Secretary Azar was the primary face of the Task Force. Now Task Force members rotate taking turns at briefings. Secretary Carson has faced questions about the Task Force’s progress in the media and on Capitol Hill.
Most recently, Secretary Carson was on ABC’s Meet the Press. Host George Stephanopoulos asked Secretary Carson if the Task Force had a plan for passengers of two cruise ships docking soon. One was set to dock in Oakland, California the next day. Carson appeared uninformed about the plan. He said that the president had met with cruise officials the day before and the plan would be ready in 72 hours. When Stephanopoulis reminded him the ship would arrive the next day, Carson shifted and said the plan “would be in place by that time.”
When pressed for details on the plan, Carson said that, “I think it needs to all come from a solidarity source, we shouldn’t have 16 people saying what the plan is, particularly when it hasn’t been fully formulated.” Rather than provide more details, Carson instead went on to talk about how people can reduce their exposure with good hygiene and avoiding crowds if you are at high risk.
Secretary Carson has also been questioned about the Task Force in other venues. At a recent congressional hearing to review HUD funding and program management, Carson was asked about the work of the Coronavirus Task Force even though he was there to talk about HUD issues.
Congressman David Price (D-NC), Chair of the House HUD appropriations subcommittee, questioned whether the public could trust the Task Force. The president and White House had been making statements that contradicted health professionals over the last month.
Price asked, “Can you assure us that the task force will be supporting the recommendations of public health professionals and ensure that our public response and public communication about the response are based on facts and science?” Carson assured the Chair, “We want to make sure it’s completely transparent, it’s not sugar-coated, it’s not used in any way as a political tool.”
HUD has posted a website with guidance to Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) and those who serve homeless persons. It provides basic information about the coronavirus. This includes how to limit the spread of the disease and what to do if residents or staff become sick. In response, PHAs throughout the country have sent informational notices to their residents, such as this memo by the Rockford Housing Authority in Illinois.
The website also has links to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website that shows the most current updates and information about the coronavirus. The most up to date information on the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) can be found here.
Current Task Force Members
Initial Members (1/29/2020)
- Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services
- Robert O’Brien, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health
- Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary, Department of State
- Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
- Joel Szabat, Acting Under Secretary for Policy, Department of Transportation
- Matthew Pottinger, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council
- Christopher Liddell, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Coordination
- Derek Kan, Executive Associate Director, Office of Management and Budget
Added by VP Pence (3/1/2020)
- Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary, Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Dr. Stephen Hahn, Commissioner of Food and Drugs
- Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
- Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General of the U.S.
- Steven Mnuchin, Secretary, Department of the Treasury
- Larry Kudlow, Director, National Economic Council
- Dr. Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Coordinator