President Trump said Sunday that he gave the green light for Ford, General Motors and Tesla to manufacture ventilators and other items to treat COVID-19, but some state and local officials say the administration isn’t moving aggressively enough to get medical supplies delivered.
The president urged auto executives to “go for it” in the race to build ventilators and other medical supplies for intensive care units, but he said he has resisted using the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that empowers the president to compel production, because it would smack of “nationalization” and is not necessary at this time.
“We have tremendous numbers of companies making equipment,” Mr. Trump said at the White House.
“We’re a country not based on nationalizing their businesses. We have the threat of doing it, if we need it. But using it is actually a big deal.”
He said his announcement last week that he intended to use the law “sent tremors through our business community.”
“Nobody would know where to start,” he said of a system that would compel changes in factory outputs.
Saying the current system is working well, Mr. Trump used as an example Honeywell International’s increase in output of N95 masks.
Presidential trade adviser Peter Navarro, who is coordinating the response from private industry, said the effort is “purely voluntary.”
“We’re seeing the greatest mobilization of the industrial base since World War II,” said Mr. Navarro. “The Defense Production Act has given me quiet leverage. We’re getting what we need without putting the heavy hand of government down.”
But some state and local officials say the president has not been quick enough to order specific private companies to repurpose their factories since Wednesday, when he invoked the Defense Production Act.
“The president of the United States is from New York City, and he will not lift a finger to help his hometown. And I do not get it. I do not get it,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Right now I have asked repeatedly for the military to be mobilized, for the Defense Production Act be used to the fullest to get us things like ventilators, so people can live who would have died otherwise.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, said the Trump administration’s failure to invoke the Defense Production Act is “going to cost lives.” She said hospitals in her district treating COVID-19 patients are experiencing shortfalls in masks, gowns and other equipment.
Mr. Trump has said many companies are stepping forward to make more masks, swabs and other supplies, so he hasn’t used the 1950 law to direct production from the private sector. He rattled off statistics Sunday of supplies provided from the federal stockpile to states, such as more than 440,000 surgical masks for New York state.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a well-known liberal Democrat, said it’s great that companies are voluntarily helping but greater production is necessary.
“It is absolutely needed,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We are nowhere near the beds and capacity that we need in this country.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, complimented the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Sunday but said states are facing the “Wild West” in the global hunt for masks, gowns and other equipment.
“We’re all competing against each other,” Mr. Pritzker told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This should have been a coordinated effort by the federal government.”
The president tweeted in response that Mr. Pritzker is part of a “very small group of certain other Governors” who “shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings.
“We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!” Mr. Trump said.
Under the Defense Production Act, the president can require U.S. companies that manufacture ventilators to prioritize federal government contracts over foreign customers. Mr. Trump also could order U.S. factories to manufacture more of the N95 face masks and other medical supplies, and direct the equipment to specific hospitals.
The president has been saying he hasn’t needed to order companies to take those steps because many of them have been stepping up on their own.
3M has ramped up to “maximum production levels” of N95 masks and doubled its global output to a rate of nearly 100 million per month, said CEO and Chairman Mike Roman.
“In the United States, we are producing 35 million [masks] per month. Of these, more than 90% are now designated for health care workers, with the remaining deployed to other industries also critical in this pandemic, including energy, food and pharmaceutical companies,” Mr. Roman said.
GM and ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems said they were combining resources to boost production and get ventilators to hospitals faster.
“We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis,” said GM Chief Executive Mary Barra.
Pernod Ricard USA, which makes Absolut Vodka and aperitifs, is switching to production of hand sanitizer at plants in Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Texas.
“Our company is proud to support the efforts of the administration and communities across the country in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ann Mukherjee, CEO of Pernod Ricard North America.
Mr. Trump said the clothing manufacturer Hanes also is retooling to make more masks.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have raised concerns that the Defense Production Act could harm the economy by reducing supply chains and limiting access to overseas markets. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Neil Bradley said the action could be counterproductive.
“Such moves could deprive vibrant U.S. companies of access to international markets and inputs in a way that could undermine economic recovery,” he said.
FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said earlier Sunday that the president had not ordered any companies to begin producing medical supplies and prefers to use the emergency law as “leverage.
“The president can use it any time,” he said. “All these companies are coming up asking us what they can do to help. And we haven’t had to use it because companies around the country, donations, they are saying, what can we do to help you? And it’s happening without using that lever. If it comes to a point we have to pull the lever, we will. But, right now, it’s really a great sign about the greatness of this country.”
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