April 20, 2020

Iowa and Illinois senators named to Trump's task force to reopen economy

Source: Quad-City Times


U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have been asked to serve on President Trump's task force advising him on when and how to reopen the economy.

Last week the Trump administration assembled a bipartisan group of lawmakers consisting of 97 members of Congress to analyze the best way to restart businesses in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Sens. Duckworth and Durbin commented on their appointments to the task force during a visit to the Rock Island Arsenal on Friday.

"Wednesday, I got a telephone call from the White House at my home," Durbin said Friday. "I said I was honored."

Durbin said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows called him back to inform him of a conference call the following day with all participating Senators and the president.

"There are 53 Republican Senators, it turns out there are 52 on the task force," Durbin said. "I'll let you guess which one wasn't."

It's Mitt Romney from Utah, who voted to convict Trump on one count of abuse of power during his impeachment trial.

Duckworth and Durbin are among 13 Democratic senators asked to serve on the task force, which has been named the Opening Up America Again Congressional Group.

In the House, a mix of 32 Democrat and Republican representatives were invited to participate.

"We had the conference call with the president; it went on for an hour," Durbin said. "The highest priority we identified was more testing equipment. We cannot reach the point where we know how bad this virus is or how well we are doing with it until we test more people."

Durbin said another conference call took place Friday morning between Vice President Mike Pence and senators on the task force during which they emphasized the importance of testing.

"I think the way forward to restart the economy must include comprehensive testing," Duckworth said. "As we move to getting people out of shelter-in-place, we need to make sure we can adequately test people so we know they are safe to go back into the workplace. The worst thing we can do is try to start the economy, get people out and not have adequate testing or contact tracing and have another wave of infections hit and have to stop the economy again.

"It all hinges on having available tests in the volumes we need them in order make sure that as people go back to work, it's a safe environment."

Congress is in negotiations over a fourth rescue package, this one targeted at helping small businesses.

Durbin said Congress also is asking for more financial help for hospitals in downstate Illinois and Iowa.

"They are desperate for more resources to keep their doors open," Durbin said. "In addition to the additional $250 billion in small business loans that can be forgiven, we want to make sure they reach all over America and to people in rural areas. Finally, we want to put more money in to the food stamp program."

By:  Sarah Hayden