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House Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia

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Top Democratic House committee heads on Friday demanded in a letter to President Trump that he provide detailed reasoning behind his decision to send ventilators to Russia as part of a $5.6 million aid package.

The committee chairpersons raised concerns that the shipment of ventilators to Russia was done while the U.S. is still in a critical phase of responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and raised concerns Trump was sending ventilators overseas as “political favors.”

The letter was signed by Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (N.Y.) and Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (N.Y.), as well as Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.).

“To be clear, we are not suggesting that the United States is not, or could never be, in a position to contribute ventilators and other critical medical supplies to countries that are truly in need,” the lawmakers wrote.

“We are deeply concerned with recent reports that you are providing critical, life-saving ventilators to Russia when they are urgently needed here in the United States to combat the coronavirus crisis and save American lives,” they added.

“The use of American taxpayer dollars to purchase and deliver ventilators overseas cannot and should not be used as political favors,” the letter also said.

The letter writers gave the president until June 4 to provide information to Congress about the administration’s process in evaluating medical shipments to other countries and the financing for those shipments.

The U.S. has had more recorded coronavirus cases and deaths than anywhere else in the world, approaching 100,000 fatalities and recording over 1.5 million infections, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Russia is now the country with the second highest rate of infection, with over 326,000 cases and 3,249 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins’s most recent numbers.

The United States delivered 50 ventilators to Russia on Thursday, according to U.S. officials. The offer to send ventilators came during a telephone conversation between Trump and Russia President Vladimir Putin earlier this month.

A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that 150 more ventilators are being produced by the manufacturer, Vyaire Medical in California, and will be donated to the Pirogov National Medical and Surgical Center in Moscow.

 

“The United States has assisted many countries during their worst periods of COVID-19 and will continue to do so,” the spokesperson said. “Speedy delivery is critical for the Russian people in desperate need of these ventilators.”

The U.S. had in April accepted a shipment of 60 tons of medical supplies from Russia that included ventilators that were handed over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for storage “out of an abundance of caution,” the spokesperson said, as the same model reportedly caused a fire in a Moscow hospital and led to the death of six people.

“Thankfully, the flattening curve meant these ventilators were not needed. The ventilators have not been deployed to hospitals,” the spokesperson said.

Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said at the time the U.S. would pay half the price of the medical supplies while the other half of the cost was covered by the Russian Direct Investment fund, but it’s unclear if the U.S. ever settled the bill with the Russian government.

The State Department directed questions to the White House and FEMA over the cost of the Russian shipment and if payment was sent. The White House and FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

—Updated at 3:48 p.m.

Tags Carolyn Maloney coronavirus pandemic Donald Trump Eliot Engel Medical ventilator Nita Lowey Russia Stephen Lynch Vladimir Putin

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