As recently as Monday, the White House had a plan to launch a new entity. It had a name -- Donald Trump called it the "Opening Our Country Task Force" -- and a team of officials who would reportedly be focused on reopening parts of the country that have been shuttered due to the pandemic.
But sometime between Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon, the plan apparently fell apart. It was replaced with an entirely new initiative: the White House released a list of 220 people -- many of whom the president referenced by name at Tuesday's press briefing -- who'll presumably have some kind of semi-formal, ill-defined advisory role on different parts of the economy. Collectively, according to Team Trump, they'd form assorted "Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups."
How did this list come together? What would these "revival" groups do? What was their mandate? What happened to the plan from Monday? No one seemed to have any idea.
Yesterday, however, the story got quite a bit messier. NBC News reported:
While happy to participate, the vast majority of those on the list were not informed that they would be named by the president and not told in advance what their roles might be.... On Wednesday, the White House began calls with many of those named by Trump on Tuesday, including one call with executives from the tech, telecommunications and transportation industries. Three sources familiar with that call said the participating executives, about 50 in total, were not informed that their names would be included in any formal White House group or council.
A New York Times report added, "Some business leaders had no idea they were included until they heard that their names had been read in the Rose Garden on Tuesday night by President Trump. Some of those who had agreed to help said they received little information on what, exactly, they were signing up for. And others who were willing to connect with the White House could not participate in hastily organized conference calls on Wednesday because of scheduling conflicts and technical difficulties. In short, the rollout of what the president referred to last week as his 'Opening Our Country Council' was as confusing as the process of getting there."
A source close to one of the relevant executives told CNN, "The White House is just making s**t up. The White House was throwing names against the wall and seeing what would stick."
A lobbyist for a leading global corporation told the Washington Post, "We got a note about a conference call, like you'd get an invite to a Zoom thing, a few lines in an email, and that was it. Then our CEO heard his name in the Rose Garden? What the [expletive]? My company is furious. How do you go from 'Join us on a call' to, 'Well, you're on our team?'"
Another top executive told Politico that the initial phone meeting between the president and assorted business leaders yesterday was a "s**t show."
Remember, in the midst of a pandemic, steps such as assembling a working group with business leaders are supposed to be the easy part. The White House is confronting some extraordinary challenges and launching an entity like this should be among the most straightforward of tasks on the administration's to-do list.
What we're left with instead, however, is the latest example of Team Trump's limitless capacity for dysfunction.