Though President Donald Trump promised at multiple points over the past week to invoke his authority under the Defense Production Act to ramp up manufacturing of needed protective gear for healthcare workers and ventilators for those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, he has yet to do so, drawing criticism from progressives and Democratic lawmakers.
“Trump must act now,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a candidate for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. “Not only are the lives of the heroes and heroines providing medical care on the line, the lives of millions across the rest of the country are on the line as well. If our medical front line goes down, the whole country is at risk.”
Sanders also published a video in which the Vermont senator demanded the president act to protect the American people.
Mr. President, get your act together. Utilize the Defense Production Act and protect our medical personnel. pic.twitter.com/ozuT72PYQN
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 21, 2020
The powers in the DPA allow Trump to force manufacturers in the U.S. to turn their factories over to producing necessary equipment for a crisis. The president signed an executive order opening the door to using the DPA on Thursday.
But the order stops short of actually using DPA authority, according to Lawfare:
The new executive order does not so much directly invoke the DPA as it creates the conditions under which the administration can later employ its authorities. Essentially, it classifies health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19 in a way that authorizes the administration to later have private businesses prioritize government contracts over other contracts. The order also delegates broad authority to the secretary of health and human services (HHS) to later employ certain powers of the DPA.
On Saturday, the president told reporters that he had not used the DPA because companies were already stepping up voluntarily.
“We have the Act to use in case we need it,” Trump told NBC News reporter Kelly O’Donnell on Saturday. “But we have so many things being made… They’ve just stepped up… We have never never seen anything like that. They are volunteering.”
There it is. Trump admits he has NOT used the Defense Production Act to get companies to produce the amount of protective equipment American health workers desperately need.
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) March 21, 2020
As the Daily Beast reported, that rosy picture is at odds with reality:
The picture has been much different on the frontline. Healthcare workers have told the Daily Beast that they are reusing single-use gearand fashioning new equipment out of protective material because of extreme shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals. Some hospitals are rationing gear at levels they have never seen.
Lawmakers in Washington and around the country demanded that the president dispense with the waiting and act immediately.
“I’m calling on the Federal Government to nationalize the medical supply chain,” tweeted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
I’m calling on the Federal Government to nationalize the medical supply chain.
The Federal Government should immediately use the Defense Production Act to order companies to make gowns, masks and gloves.
Currently, states are competing against other states for supplies.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 22, 2020
“This decision is unconscionable,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “It will allow the virus to spread. It will get people killed.”
On Sunday, FEMA director Peter Gaynor confirmed that the president had not yet used the powers in the DPA but said that masks and other protective gear were being distributed. When asked for specific numbers from CNN‘s Jake Tapper, however, Gaynor would not go into detail.
“It is a dynamic and fluid operation,” said Gaynor, prompting Tapper to note that the administration’s response “doesn’t fill people with confidence.”
"You understand the inability of the federal govt to give a number in terms of masks alarms people. It makes people concerned there aren't masks going out the door"- here's FEMA admin Gaynor repeatedly dodging Tapper's straightforward Q about how many masks are at govt's disposal pic.twitter.com/9zRyD68enk
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 22, 2020
On Friday, attorney and activist Miles Mogulescu wrote that using the DPA’s powers was long-overdue.
“With an impending shortage of tens of thousands of life-saving ventilators, testing kits, protective equipment for health care workers, and other critical medical supplies, putting this law into effect would enable the Federal government to order American companies to convert to mass producing and distributing this equipment on an emergency basis, as they converted from making cars to tanks within weeks after Pearl Harbor,” wrote Mogulescu.