Yes, We Need a 9/11-Style Coronavirus Commission—Appointed by Trump | Opinion

When last seen, California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff was off licking his wounds following the United States Senate's refusal to ratify his assertion President Donald Trump had acted in a manner requiring he be removed from office.

That process, which moved forward largely due to Schiff's willingness to press his thumb on the scales of justice, proved an embarrassment to the Democrats who backed it. Not because the country approves of the job the president is doing—the most recent polls indicate that is a suspect assertion—but because the whole impeachment business was so nakedly partisan that it must have turned the stomachs of independent thinkers. Most Americans are, after all, fair-minded and still believe in fair play.

Well, Schiff's back—and with a vengeance. In the middle of the effort to combat the most serious crisis facing the United States since the near-collapse of the financial sector at the end of the George W. Bush administration, he is pushing to establish a coronavirus commission modeled on what followed the 9/11 attacks to study how the country got where it is now.

Usually, one waits until a conflict is resolved before engaging in an in-depth examination of its cause. What Schiff wants is another opportunity to stick it to Trump, plain and simple. In his mind, he's the avenger, looking out for the interests of the common man against a potentate laying waste to this great country.

He is right on one point, however. There should be a commission, ideally appointed by the president, that looks at all aspects of the COVID-19 crisis with special concentration on the way federal and state governments failed the citizens who put them in office.

Such a commission, if it were bipartisan and composed of heavyweights from the fields of medicine, government and industry, could do a lot to help us understand how and why things got as far as they did. A panel led by the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the Republicans and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or former Governor Jerry Brown for the Democrats would immediately command the public's respect. They've demonstrated at one time or another that they're not afraid to ask hard questions and follow the truth where it leads. More important, they would not shy away from making tough recommendations regarding future economic, health and national security needs—even if they might upset the institutions and political allies that once gave them their considerable power.

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on small business relief in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 7. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

The other members of the commission should be those who have valuable, relevant experience in both the private and public sectors. Former Vermont Democratic Governor Howard Dean is a medical doctor. Former Michigan Republican Governor John Engler, after he left office, went on to run the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable. The ideal candidate, my former boss, Bush 43 Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, is unavailable; he passed away too soon. Yet there are plenty of other strong candidates who have served in government and have backgrounds in the hard sciences, health care, finance or engineering.

They could find out why COVID-19 turned into a pandemic and why the nation wasn't prepared. They could also propose ways to prevent it from happening again and improve our response if it does.

An honest examination of the policies that produced the current crisis would no doubt find wrong-headed decisions by the government at the root. Things like agencies that weren't devoting enough attention to viral outbreaks around the world, depleted stockpiles that should by law have been maintained and rolls and rolls of red tape blocking quick decision-making when it counted most.

As Schiff and others seemingly fail to understand, the "who" in this case is far less important than the "why." Focusing on the "why" is what will reduce the chances of this crisis recurring.

Do we play politics, or do we act like the self-governing people the founders wanted us to be? Hopefully, we'll know soon.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics and the American experience for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International and other publications. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.

The views expressed in his article are the writer's own.

Yes, We Need a 9/11-Style Coronavirus Commission—Appointed by Trump | Opinion | Opinion