This was the first week of our new normal: surging coronavirus cases, major cities on the East and West Coast quarantined and no clear answer on when this might all end.
With most everyone — aside from some idiotic spring breakers in Florida — staying close to or at home, the country is literally watching a small group of people try to lead us out of this pandemic. (Most, but not all, of these people are elected officials.)
So every Friday that we are in this new normal, I’ll walk through a list of the 10 people who mattered the most in battling the coronavirus that week. Why? Because the way our leaders deal with this crisis matters. We will all remember what they did — and how their decisions affected our health, our safety, our economy and the eventual outcome of this pandemic. My first attempt is below.
(NOTE: This is not organized by who is doing the best job when it comes to leading. “Leadership” tends to be a hard thing to agree on, especially in these moments. Rather, it’s simply a look at whose voices truly matter most right now.)
1. Donald Trump: The President was deeply uneven this week — at times seeming to understand the depth of the threat posed to the country by coronavirus, and at other times (like Friday) returning to his flippant name-calling of reporters and media organizations. Still, no single person in the country has the ability to move the levers of government like the President.
2. Andrew Cuomo: The governor of New York has the dubious distinction of being in charge of the state with the largest number of coronavirus cases. Cuomo’s heavily hands-on leadership has generally drawn praise, although it remains to be seen how his Friday decision to order all of New York to stay home will land.
3. Anthony Fauci: Such is the current public reliance on the septuagenarian head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that when Fauci was gone from the coronavirus task force daily briefing for two days this week, people began to panic. Fauci is, without question, the most important medical voice in the country right now.
4. Mike Pence: The vice president is the calm yin to Trump’s yo-yoing yang during the crisis. As head of the coronavirus task force, Pence is charged with conveying the nuts and bolts of the effort to combat the virus to the public each day. He’s generally gone light on the obsequiousness to Trump and heavy on leadership, which has been a pleasant surprise.
5. Mitch McConnell: The Senate majority leader has a gargantuan task on his hands — trying to shepherd through a massive $1 trillion-plus economic stimulus bill to keep the economy steady in just a few days. The Kentucky Republican fashions himself the master of the Senate’s people and procedures. He’ll need all his skill to make this happen.
6. Steve Mnuchin: While the loss of human life from coronavirus has drawn the lion’s share of media attention (and rightly so), the collapse of the stock market — off 30% since the pandemic — may have longer ramifications for our way of life. Mnuchin, as treasury secretary, is charged with putting policies in place to keep the economy solvent. His postponement of tax day to July 15 will keep him popular — this week at least!
7. Gavin Newsom: The governor of California may not get as much media attention as Cuomo but he leads the most populated state in the country, with the third most cases of coronavirus and the largest population under stay-at-home orders. Newsom also drew headlines Thursday with his statement that more than half of California’s population is likely to get coronavirus.
8. Bill de Blasio: The mayor of New York City takes something of a back seat to Cuomo — which will annoy him to no end, since the two are bitter rivals — but he still has a vital role to play as the head of the largest city in the country. Plus, de Blasio deserves credit for being right that there needed to be a shelter in place order to contain the spread of the virus in the city.
9. Deborah Birx: Before the coronavirus epidemic, you likely knew the names of everyone else on the list. Not so for Birx, who had been toiling in relative obscurity at the State Department prior to being tapped to serve on the coronavirus task force. Her public profile has surged since — as she is a regular fixture at the podium alongside Trump, Pence and Fauci. Which is a good thing given her long record of success in dealing with the AIDS fight.
10. Joe Biden: The all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee has been largely sidelined this week. Biden still matters because he will be the Democratic alternative to Trump in the fall. But at the moment, he’s struggling to be a major player.