Trump campaign officials, who have spent months investing in outreach to black and Latino voters ahead of November, now face the difficult task of courting communities that have been ravaged by the virus and are frustrated with what they perceive as a lackluster response from the administration.
A senior administration official familiar with the council, which is led by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, said the group is still weighing policy proposals from federal agencies and will be presenting a plan to Trump “in the near future.” The council has held discussions with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), an architect of the federal opportunity zone program, and two aides to Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The delay in tackling the disproportionate mortality and infection rates and financial strain in minority communities — some of the most severe of the coronavirus crisis — underscores the challenge administration officials face as they grapple with a dire public health crisis.
“Secretary Carson was supposed to take some initiative to deal with this, but I haven’t heard anything since then. It’s hard to be critical of their strategy excluding racial disparity issues when there doesn’t seem to be any strategy at all,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who participated in a phone call with Vice President Mike Pence and House Democrats last month where concerns about underserved populations repeatedly came up.
Pence has also discussed the issue with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose city has seen African American residents succumb to the virus at nearly six times the rate of white residents, according to public data analyzed by the Chicago Tribune. The vice president’s involvement, though welcomed by state leaders who have praised his responsiveness, has confused some administration officials who said it was unclear who is spearheading the administration’s response to racial and ethnic minorities that showed a particular vulnerability to the novel coronavirus.
Carson, Scott and two Kushner allies inside the White House Office of American Innovation have all claimed involvement and led separate phone calls and virtual meetings on the subject. The senior administration official said Carson “is leading discussions and we’re definitely working with Senator Scott and having collaborative conversations with the White House.”
“A lot of this is going to be using the CARES Act, as well as putting together proposals to fortify public health and empower business sectors in these communities to better recover,” the official added, citing the $2 trillion coronavirus response bill that Congress passed last month.
Administration officials including Carson have held several discussions with organizations in urban communities, as well as local and state officials. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters this week the administration previously set aside $2 billion for hospitals in underserved communities out of a $12 billion pool of provider relief payments.
Trump has also repeatedly highlighted the $30 billion of Paycheck Protection funds that was set aside for smaller loan recipients, including minority-owned businesses. During a Fox News town hall on May 3, the president said he would release a report within two weeks outlining further plans to address the “totally disproportional effect” Covid-19 has had on racial minorities.
A White House spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of such a report.
The dearth of information about the federal government’s plans to correct failures that have exacerbated the pandemic’s impact on communities of color has not stopped the president — or his campaign — from using the topic to forge ahead in their pursuit of black and Latino supporters.
On Tuesday, the Trump campaign said in an email blast that the president is “prioritizing underserved communities” and overseeing “the greatest mobilization [of the federal government] since World War II.” The campaign has also included “Black voices for Trump” gatherings with senior Trump campaign adviser Katrina Pierson in its weekly programming since the pandemic forced most 2020 campaign events into the virtual sphere.
A Facebook video posted by the campaign last week touted the president’s purchase of 250 burritos from a Latino-owned restaurant during an event Trump hosted at an N95 mask factory in Phoenix, Ariz.
Nevertheless, minority voters have continued to give the president low marks for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed more than 80,000 American lives since February.
Only 21 percent of African American respondents and 35 percent of Hispanics said they approve of Trump’s approach to Covid-19 in a Morning Consult survey taken in late April, the same week the president suggested consuming household disinfectants could protect Americans from the virus. A separate CNN poll released this week found that 69 percent of non-white voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of the viral outbreak.
“The problem for us is there is no good news on the horizon,” said one person close to the Trump campaign. “Even when daily cases slow down, it will take years for underserved communities to rebuild themselves and President Trump doesn’t have the luxury of time right now.”
One of the recurring complaints administration officials have faced as they work to address Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities has been a testing shortage in communities that are predisposed to the virus due to existing environmental risks and underlying health factors.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said in an op-ed on Thursday that while testing has increased in “white, affluent communities … more COVID-19 cases and deaths in low-income, minority communities” have occurred.
“We have the data to pinpoint who is at the highest risk during this pandemic and to identify the factors that put them at risk. It’s time we put two and two together and bring testing and contact tracing to the communities who need it most,” wrote Rush, who has advocated for the creation of a $100 billion grant program to boost mobile testing and door-to-door outreach in minority communities.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s czar on Covid-19 testing, said at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden on Monday that the administration planned to announce a contract in the near future to “guarantee a national network of state, local and community-based organizations” to provide racial and ethnic minorities with improved access to testing and care.