Pelosi urges Trump to tap emergency powers to meet medical equipment, testing needs

Pelosi urges Trump to tap emergency powers to meet medical equipment, testing needs
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' White House not optimistic on near-term stimulus deal Sunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday called on President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE to tap his emergency war powers to ramp up coronavirus testing and the production of medical equipment, warning that neither schools nor the economy can reopen safely until those basic needs are met. 

"The president has made so many bad executive decisions. We wish he would make a good executive decision, and do that," she said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

Pelosi noted that even six months into the pandemic, many medical providers are facing shortages of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), while Americans seeking COVID-19 tests are frequently forced to wait at least a week for the results.

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Democrats have long urged Trump to tackle those problems using his authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA), a 1950 law empowering the government to mobilize private industry to accelerate the production of goods in the name of national security.

Trump in March had invoked the law, calling himself a "wartime president," and the administration has called the strategy a success, citing subsequent DPA contracts with industry giants like Honeywell, to produce respirator masks, and General Electric, to manufacture ventilators. 

Yet Trump has also waded carefully into the DPA waters, voicing a reluctance to have the government encroach too forcefully on private enterprise. And critics say the effort has been both too little and too late, accusing Trump of waiting too long to tap his DPA powers, and using the authority far too sparingly.

"Donald Trump is too much of a coward to use his authority to fully invoke the Defense Production Act in order to meet the PPE and medical device needs of our health care industry and communities," Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersCDC director says he wasn't involved in decision to reroute COVID-19 hospitalization data Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier Senate panel scraps confirmation hearing for controversial Pentagon nominee at last minute MORE (D-Calif.), who heads the Financial Services Committee, said Wednesday.

The impacts, Democrats say, are showing themselves this month, as cases have spiked around the country, leaving hospitals scrambling for equipment and consumers struggling to secure tests — and timely results. 

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"We still don't have the needed testing and PPE, and the president refuses to use the full power of the Defense Production Act needed for reopening," Pelosi said. "This is such a massive dereliction of duty. People are dying."

In another shot at the president, Pelosi compared Trump to the proverbial lost driver — hopelessly male — who prefers to drive aimlessly rather that dent his pride by stopping to ask directions. 

"All of the answers are there — the scientists have the answers," Pelosi said. "We know that testing, tracing, treating, distancing, masking, sanitation, can stop the spread of this virus. And yet the president continues to go down the wrong path, and refuses to ask for directions from scientists who know better than any of us." 

The debate arrives as Congress is set to launch bipartisan negotiations on another massive package of coronavirus relief, designed both to provide the medical tools needed to contain the fast-spreading pandemic and to prop up the economy amid mass business closures, limping retail sales and the historic flood of layoffs that have followed. 

In May, Pelosi and House Democrats passed an enormous $3 trillion package, featuring hundreds of billions of dollars for medical equipment, coronavirus testing, direct cash payments for individuals and families, and an expansion of unemployment insurance benefits. It also includes almost $1 trillion for state and local governments facing severe budget shortages amid the crisis.

Republican leaders in the Senate have acknowledged the need for another emergency infusion of federal funds, but they've balked at the size of the Democrats' bill and certain provisions they deem extraneous, like billions of dollars to establish safe elections in November. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Meadows: Election will be held on November third Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency MORE (R-Ky.) has said the next round should be in the range of $1 trillion.  

Pelosi on Thursday said the Republicans latest offer of $1.3 trillion is "not enough." And she pointed out the inconsistency underlying the deficit spending concerns being voiced by Republicans, whose 2017 tax cuts are projected to pile almost $2 trillion onto the national debt. She also noted that the Federal Reserve is leveraging trillions of federal dollars to bolster Wall Street, which has seen a historic surge in recent months. 

"The stock market looks good, huh? Well, federal dollars are helping to make that happen," Pelosi said. "And that's OK, and that's a good thing for the economy. But we should have trillions of dollars to prop up workers. 

"We've never seen anything like this."