Frustration mounts at Trump’s reluctance to use emergency production powers
Frustration is mounting at President Trump’s reluctance to use emergency war powers to accelerate the production of medical supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Less than three months into the pandemic, hospitals, health workers and state and local officials have said they are quickly running out of personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves that are crucial to keeping doctors and nurses on the front lines of the pandemic safe.
Congressional Democrats, health care providers and governors said Trump needs to use those powers quickly in order to spur the massive increase in production and distribution that’s needed.
Trump on Wednesday announced during a press conference at the White House that he was invoking the Defense Production Act, which would allow the administration to force American industry to manufacture medical supplies that are in short supply in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s never been an instance like this where no matter what you have, it’s not enough,” Trump said at a White House briefing with reporters.
But in a subsequent tweet on Wednesday evening, Trump indicated that even though he invoked the act, he is in no rush to use it.
“I only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst- case scenario in the future,” he said. “Hopefully there will be no need, but we are all in this TOGETHER!”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday warned that the country can’t afford to wait.
“The President must immediately use the powers of the Defense Production Act to mass produce and coordinate distribution of these critical supplies, before the need worsens and the shortages become even more dire. There is not a day to lose,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“We must put more testing, more protective equipment and more ventilators into the hands of our front-line workers immediately,” she added.
Her statement follows a letter, sent to Trump last week by 57 House Democrats, calling on the president to use the Defense Production Act for those very purposes.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), chairman of the national governors association, on Thursday said governors need more guidance on how the Defense Production Act will be implemented. In addition, officials in several states say they have only received a fraction of the protective equipment they requested from a national stockpile of medical supplies managed by the federal government.
However, Trump has repeatedly said states are in a better position to manage their own supply chains than the federal government is.
In comments during a White House press conference Thursday, Trump said it was the responsibility of governors to make sure their hospitals had enough supplies.
“Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work, and they are doing a lot of this work. The federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not shipping clerks,” Trump said.
Some governors have been pushing back. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), whose state has been hit hard by the disease, on Thursday pleaded for the federal government to take action.
“Every state is shopping for ventilators. We‘re shopping for ventilators. We literally have people in China shopping for ventilators, which is one of the largest manufacturers. So this is a major problem,” Cuomo said at his daily news conference.
“We’re going to need protective equipment and hospitals. We are going to need ventilators. And that is something that a state can’t do but the federal government can do,” Cuomo added.
During a governor’s briefing on Thursday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said the state has lost out to the federal government three times on purchases of critical supplies.
Vice President Pence said he thinks the government won’t have to force businesses to manufacture additional supplies.
“Right now what I can tell you is as the President has brought together leaders of business and industry and supply chains, I think Mr. President that you put it well when you talk about the spirit in American business about wanting to ramp up voluntarily,” Pence said.
Federal health officials have announced plans to buy 500 million N95 respirators over the next 18 months, but it’s not clear how long it will take to distribute those supplies to the front line providers who need them most.
To help mitigate the worst of the shortages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been loosening requirements around the use of N95 masks.
The agency has recommended limited reuse of face masks, and suggested the use of surgical masks instead of N95s, which don’t filter out airborne viruses.
The CDC on Wednesday also said nurses and other health practitioners can use “homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort” if there are no surgical masks available.