On Thursday, the White House announced that Reps. Elise Stefanik, Lee Zeldin, Tom Suozzi and John Katko, would be joining its new Opening Up America Again Congressional Group.
"We can begin the next front in our war, which we are calling 'Opening Up America Again,'" Trump said during a press conference on Thursday. "To preserve the health of Americans, we must preserve the health of our economy."
"We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time," Trump added. "Some states will be able to open up sooner than others."
The bipartisan group, which includes 97 members of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, is just one of the task forces created by the White House to assess when the country should begin lifting restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Trump has created a series of what the White House calls "Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups" full of corporate executives.
None of the lawmakers tapped to be on the congressional task force are from New York City, the epicenter of the nation’s novel coronavirus outbreak. Suozzi’s district includes a tiny sliver of Queens, but the former Nassau county executive and Glen Cove mayor has mainly served Long Island throughout his political career.
Considering downstate New York has been hit so much harder than upstate, where Stefanik and Katko hail from, it’s notable that prominent city lawmakers such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Hakeem Jeffries and Jerry Nadler were left off the task force. The two Democratic senators from the state, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, were also left out. However, the congressional group has members from red rural states such as Wyoming, Missouri and Idaho, which have far fewer cases per capita than downstate New York.
One might expect upstate New York representatives to look out for their fellow New Yorkers’ interests, but Stefanik hasn’t appeared concerned with the welfare of New York City or its suburbs. This was especially clear when she aggressively pushed back against Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he sought to lend unused ventilators from less-affected areas of the state to those potentially running out of the lifesaving breathing machines. The congresswoman was one of the main signatories on a letter that objected to the redistribution of ventilators.
Stefanik’s main interest during the state’s COVID-19 outbreak seems to be protecting the economic interests of upstate dairy farmers.
Even after being appointed to the new task force, Stefanik continued to emphasize the prioritization of upstate, even though it accounts for just a small fraction of the cases in New York. "Prioritizing the needs of upstate New York and rural communities as a whole will be critical to protecting public health and restarting the American economy, getting people back to work, and easing the burden on so many families across my district and the entire country," Stefanik said on Thursday.
President Donald Trump is known to reward those who are loyal to him and punish those who he considers disloyal. Presumably, the president selected Stefanik and Zeldin due to their outspoken support for him and their willingness to defend him at almost every turn. Trump grew especially fond of Stefanik after her performance at his impeachment trial in November 2019, which helped boost her popularity among Republicans. In January, Trump appointed Stefanik and Zeldin – another longtime champion of the president – to join his impeachment defense team.
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