Two days after signing a Korean War-era law allowing for a government-mandated increase in supply production in response to the coronavirus pandemic – and a day after saying he had yet to invoke it – President Donald Trump announced Friday his powers under the measure had kicked into “high gear.”
“We invoked it I think the day before, we signed it the evening of the day before and invoked it yesterday. We have a lot of people working very hard to do ventilators and various other things,” Trump said.
The convoluted timeline and uncertain parameters of Trump’s use of the Defense Production Act comes as hospital workers continue to raise concerns about shortages of essential medical equipment like surgical masks and ventilators.
Under the law, the government can direct industries to ramp up production of necessary equipment. Trump said Friday the law would be used “for certain things that we need,” including “ventilators” and “probably more masks, to a large extent.”
But as a contentious and contradictory news conference wore on, it became clear Trump had not ordered American companies under his executive prerogative to scale up production.
Instead, Trump said those companies were offering up their services without the government demanding it.
“We are literally being besieged in a beautiful way by companies that want to do the work and help our country,” he said. “We have not had a problem with that at all.”
Trump told reporters he’d moved the National Response Coordination Center – an office within Federal Emergency Management Agency – into the “highest level of activation.”
“We are helping the states a lot,” Trump said.
Still, there remains some confusion around Trump’s use of the Defense Production Act, which he signed on Wednesday but later said he wasn’t yet invoking despite shortages of medical gear and equipment.
Hours after announcing he’d signed the measure, Trump tweeted he would only use it in a “worst case scenario.” Some of Trump’s advisers and allies have warned against using the measure as a way to force commercial enterprises into wartime production of supplies.
On Thursday, Trump said it was the responsibility of individual governors to ensure their states have sufficient levels of supplies and said the federal government shouldn’t be acting as a “shipping clerk.”
On Friday, Trump said there were “millions of masks which are coming and which will be distributed to the states.”
“They will be here soon,” Trump said. “We’re having them shipped directly to states.”
Speaking alongside Trump, Vice President Mike Pence teased a “a major procurement from the federal government of N95 masks” coming over the weekend. 3M said in a statement on Friday it has doubled its global output of N95 respirators amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The vice president also highlighted “new alternatives to increase the supply of ventilators” in the US amid fears that the health care system does not have enough to keep alive the number of Americans likely to become seriously ill at the height of an outbreak.
Pence said part of those efforts involve a push to “free up other ventilators” in use in the system.
Earlier Friday, Trump spoke by phone with the top Democrat in the US Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who encouraged him to use the Defense Production Act to get more necessarily medical equipment to people who need it.
A Schumer spokesman said Trump “yelled to someone in his office to do it now” when Schumer made the request.