As the highest-ranking Democrat in the country and Mr. Trump’s constitutional equal, Ms. Pelosi (and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Schumer) is also stepping into a void left by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, who has been struggling to carve out a place for himself in the coronavirus debate.
Democrats say the pandemic has presented them with a powerful political hand to play.
“This is a perfect storm of messaging,” said Steve Israel, the former congressman from New York who ran the House Democrats’ campaign arm. “The three defining issues in this campaign were Trump’s competence as president, the strength of the economy and health care — and those three issues have now collided spectacularly.”
Ms. Pelosi insists politics is not at work. “This is life and death,” she said.
But the Democrats have succeeded in elevating issues that Mr. Trump would rather not discuss. This month, for instance, Mr. Schumer used an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to urge Mr. Trump to appoint a military official as a “czar” to oversee the production and distribution of medical supplies and equipment. That led to a daylong verbal duel.
First, Mr. Trump blasted “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” on Twitter. Mr. Schumer followed up with a letter to Mr. Trump reiterating his demand. They spoke by phone, and Mr. Trump threatened to send Mr. Schumer a “nasty letter.” He later did so, accusing the Democratic leader on formal White House stationery of exacerbating New York’s coronavirus outbreak by being distracted by the “ridiculous impeachment hoax.”
Mr. Schumer insisted that he and Ms. Pelosi were having some effect. In the weeks since that exchange, Mr. Trump has occasionally invoked the Defense Production Act, the Korean War-era law allowing him to compel manufacturers to produce vital equipment.
“One of the reasons the majority of people now realize the president is not doing a good job,” Mr. Schumer said, “is we’ve been pointing it out.”
The two have also been using their media appearances to demonstrate how Democrats might govern, even as they highlight the president’s shortcomings. They have been particularly focused on Mr. Trump’s failure to live up to his claim that any American who needed a coronavirus test could get one. On Wednesday, Democrats rolled out their own $30 billion national testing plan — an implicit attack on Mr. Trump that Ms. Pelosi reinforced later in the day when she went on CNN’s “State of the Union.”