As state leaders across the country call on the federal government to activate the Defense Production Act, White House officials continue to push back — instead insisting that companies have stepped up to provide the dire medical equipment needed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic across the U.S.
On Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it ultimately did not need to use the DPA to secure medical equipment, walking back on an announcement made by the head of the agency earlier that morning. But state authorities and health leaders have called for more federal intervention as they struggle to get their hands on ventilators and personal protective equipment necessary to brace for overwhelmed hospitals amid the intensifying outbreak.
Adm. Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, on Thursday defended the administration’s decision to keep the DPA in its back pocket, saying the federal government had poured supplies into New York — providing the state with everything it needs, including masks and ventilators.
“The Defense Production Act, it’s very important that potential is there,” Giroir said on “Fox & Friends.” “But as the president has clearly said, industry is pouring in with offers. Everything we have asked, they have done. And they come every single day to provide more and more goods.”
The pushback also comes as more than 100 current and former national security professionals, including former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, joined the call for action this week, urging the president to use the act to ramp up production of critical medical supplies.
The letter, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, says that despite the administration’s using the DPA on a “narrow and limited basis,” health care workers continue to “sound the alarm, citing the increasingly urgent and dire need for ventilators, masks, testing supplies and other resources.”
“Some private companies have been willing and able to scale up production — and admirably so,” the letter says. “But as governors and local leaders around the country are making clear, private efforts without more extensive government support are proving far from sufficient to meet the current and anticipated needs. Beyond questions of supply, the private sector lacks the ability to process incoming requests, prioritize the most urgent needs, and coordinate with other companies absent more concerted government involvement. That is precisely what the DPA is designed to do.”
Though President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to invoke the DPA, he has yet to make a single order, saying that “we have the act to use in case we need it, but we have so many things being made right now” by companies that are volunteering. During Monday’s White House briefing, the president offered another reason for not activating the DPA, suggesting that doing so would be socialist.
“We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” Trump said. “Call a person over in Venezuela. Ask them, how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well.”
On Thursday, the White House trade adviser, Peter Navarro, who appears to be leading the effort on sourcing supplies for states across the country, said he was working with FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services and the private sector to get health care professionals what “they need, and we’re just getting that done.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of the federal government and private enterprise and President Trump for bringing that effort together, because every time I call somebody — if I call 1,000 people today, 999 of them in the private sector will be more than willing to do whatever we ask,” Navarro said on Fox on Thursday morning.
Navarro had a more intense exchange later on CNN when he was asked about not activating the DPA. He said the administration was stepping up, “working very, very hard” to get equipment to hot spots like New York and other states facing an intensifying surge of coronavirus cases. Navarro also downplayed reports that people were using garbage bags for protection, suggesting that CNN was sensationalizing the crisis.
“So, there’ll be pictures of people that you’re citing or whatever with garbage bags or whatever. But that’s going to be the exception that proves the rule that we’re doing everything we can,” Navarro said.
“Let’s not sensationalize this crisis at a time when we create more anxiety or panicked behavior with people,” he added.
In an Instagram Live Q&A with NBA player Stephen Curry, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White task force, also touted the private sector’s willingness to step up when he was asked whether the federal government’s approach to the supply problems was appropriate.
“Once you get the private sector, these companies involved, they can whip out billions and billions of masks,” Fauci said. “I mean, literally at the last meeting, we had to say, OK, enough is enough. Let’s get them and flood it. Let’s get those companies to make them, and they’re willing to do it. You know, it’s very interesting, you would think that the federal government would almost have to force them to do it. You’re not seeing that. We’re seeing they’re stepping forward, wanting to do it themselves.”
But the praise stands in stark contrast to complaints from leaders across the country who say their states still don’t have the necessary supplies to battle the outbreak. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on Thursday said she didn’t understand why Trump, just a day after reportedly telling Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that he would activate the DPA, had walked back on the decision.
“But unfortunately, we have someone in the White House who I don’t think understands the core and essential functions of government,” Harris said on MSNBC on Thursday. “I don’t think he respects those core and essential functions of government to understand what he should be unlocking and, in this case, to require and to encourage and incentivize domestic production of the health resources like masks and ventilators that will save American lives. I don’t understand. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. I think it’s an abject failure of leadership.”