Donald Trump keeps changing his story on what’s going on with the coronavirus and his administration’s response to it. He makes an overblown claim about the number of tests available or how quickly a vaccine will be available or a medication that might be used to treat the disease and then reality intervenes and he’s forced to walk it back or pretend he never said it. Trump’s stance toward the government helping hospitals get the equipment they need is a major case in point.
On Wednesday, Trump was a “wartime president” invoking the Defense Production Act, which would empower him to call on private industry to manufacture needed supplies, and then on Thursday, he hadn’t actually moved forward with that because “The federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”
But actually, this story doesn’t start on Wednesday. “We’re ordering a lot of supplies,” Trump told reporters on February 28. “We’re ordering a lot of—a lot of elements that, frankly, we wouldn’t be ordering unless it was something like this. But we’re ordering a lot of different elements of medical.”
So it went from “We’re ordering a lot of supplies” to invoking the law that would allow the government to prompt production of more supplies to “We’re not a shipping clerk” and that’s why Trump is not actually ensuring production of more supplies. But hey, he insisted, “Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work, and they are doing a lot of this work.” Which would be nice if governors could do it all. But they can’t, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made clear on Thursday.
Governors are doing what they can: “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.
But “We’re going to need protective equipment in hospitals. We’re going to need ventilators. And that is something that a state can’t do, but the federal government can do” under the Defense Production Act.
Trump’s failure there is making itself felt in hospitals.
“The lack of preparation on national level is hurting hospitals that are well prepared,” a Rhode Island emergency room doctor told The Boston Globe. “My hospital has been thinking about this since the first report in Wuhan in December, but the national response has been so inefficient, we can’t prepare better—because we can’t get the supplies we need.”
This isn’t a side note in the coronavirus crisis. “We’re not a shipping clerk” suggests that Trump doesn’t get that—adequate medical supplies are critical for fighting COVID-19. Without those supplies, doctors and nurses will get sick and not be there for patients. Patients will die because there aren’t enough doctors and nurses and because there aren’t enough ventilators. This is the big and serious work of government and Trump is lying about what he’s doing, posturing, and dismissing it, depending what day you catch him on.