Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday evening called on President Trump to appoint a senior military official to serve as a czar in charge of producing and distributing medical equipment, arguing that Trump’s coronavirus task force is not up to the job.
“There’s a dramatic shortage of all the needed supplies or most of them, whether it’s masks, whether it’s PPE [personal protective equipment] … whether it’s ventilators. And we have no one really in charge,” Schumer said in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett. “We have this awful spectacle of governors bidding against one another.”
Schumer revealed that one unnamed governor even told him that he has reached out to Sweden in a desperate search to find more ventilators.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) warned on Wednesday that his city, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, needs 400 ventilators and 3.3 million face masks by Sunday to deal with the pandemic.
Schumer said Trump’s senior adviser on trade and manufacturing, Peter Navarro, whom the president tapped to be in charge of the Defense Production Act’s authority to commandeer industries to produce essential supplies, isn’t doing a good enough job.
“I talked to him — he is not up to the job. He is a very nice man but he has no experience doing things like this,” Schumer said. “And they have no one that I can best tell in charge of the distribution.”
The Democratic leader added that Trump needs to appoint a senior official with experience handling large organizations and complex logistics as a procurement czar for essential medical equipment.
“They need one person, a military person, a general who knows how to deal with logistics and quartermastering, who knows command and control. You need to place that person, the czar, in charge of both production and distribution of all of these kinds of needed equipment and get it to the places that are needed,” Schumer said.
He said Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, could provide recommendations.
“He’s had years of military experience. He would know just the person to do this,” Schumer said.
The Democratic leader went on to characterize the current state of the medical supply chain as “a big mess.”
“The military is great at stuff like this. When they go into battle or prepare for a battle, they have to put different kinds of equipment in different kinds of places all at once,” Schumer said. “There are some very fine generals and high-ranking members of our military who could do this job if they were appointed, given the power and let loose.”
Schumer for weeks has pressed Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to force industries to produce ventilators and other vital equipment, but without any success so far.
He said the president should invoke the authority immediately.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters in a conference call this week that she suspects Trump is reluctant to use the authority for medical equipment because of possible resistance from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.