Trump’s labeling of the federal government as “backup” ignores the fact that he is the only one who can invoke the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce medical equipment and supplies.
President Trump on Thursday referred to the federal government as a “backup” in the fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak and once again lashed out at states for their requests for personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators.
In an early morning tweet, Trump wrote that “massive amounts of medical supplies, even hospitals and medical centers, are being delivered to states and hospitals by the Federal Government,” before adding that “Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?). Remember, we are a backup for them.”
In a second tweet, Trump said the “complainers” should “have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit.”
Trump’s designation of the federal government as the “backup” will certainly rub states the wrong way, as it more or less betrays the entire point of the federal government. It also ignores the fact that Trump is the only one who can invoke the Defense Production Act to compel private companies to produce desperately needed medical equipment and supplies.
Trump has used the law to force General Motors to make ventilators, but Democrats are pleading with him to deploy it further to order companies to produce additional PPE, hospital equipment, and coronavirus testing kits. Trump has refused thus far, even though his administration has not been shy about invoking the Defense Production Act prior to the pandemic. The New York Times reported this week that the Defense Department has used the law’s powers an estimated 300,000 times per year under President Trump.
States, meanwhile, have no such ability to invoke the law, and while private companies, such as 3M, Brooks Brothers, and Apple have stepped up and are manufacturing or donating PPE, states still rely on the federal government for badly needed supplies. Instead of providing states what they’ve asked for, Trump has repeatedly pushed responsibility for procuring PPE, such as N95 masks, surgical masks, gowns, and gloves, onto their governors.
“Try getting it yourselves,” Trump told the nation’s governors on March 16.
Trump has also attacked several Democratic governors in recent weeks, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, because they weren’t nice enough to him.
“All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative. I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true. I want them to be appreciative. We’ve done a great job,” Trump said last week.
On Thursday, Trump seemed to accuse states of playing politics, even though his administration appears to be directing supplies to Republican states and not Democratic ones. While Florida, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have secured everything they’ve asked for and more when it comes to PPE, Democratic states such as Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maine have received only a fraction of what they’ve asked for.
The Trump administration also appears to be interfering with his states’ own efforts to procure equipment, according to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“When the federal government told us that we needed to go it ourselves, we started procuring every item we could get our hands on,” Whitmer said last week on WWJ 950AM. “What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we had contracts are now being told not to send stuff here to Michigan. It’s really concerning.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has blasted Trump’s attempts to foist responsibility onto states and on Tuesday compared a lack of federal coordination to “being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator.”
New York has become the nation’s worst coronavirus hotspot with over 84,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. More than 2,200 people have died in the state, as of Thursday morning. Cuomo has asked the federal government for 30,000 ventilators, but has only received 4,400 from the national stockpile, which is managed by FEMA.
If hospitals don’t have enough ventilators to meet the crush of patients needing them, doctors will be forced to ration care, deciding who lives and who dies. This already appears to be happening in New York City.
The PPE shortage could also cost lives. Two New York City nurses have already died from COVID-19 and many other doctors and nurses across the country have spoken out about the PPE shortage and how it threatens their lives. Many doctors and nurses are breaking protocol and reusing masks, while others are resorting to using swim goggles, bandanas, and trash bags to protect themselves. These frontline medical workers are begging for help, and in some cases, directly criticizing the Trump administration for not providing it.
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“There is a direct correlation between the way the Trump administration handles this crisis and how many Americans will die,” said Dr. Dara Kass, an emergency medicine doctor in New York City who contracted COVID-19 while on the job.
Other medical professionals have quit their jobs amid the lack of protection. “I didn’t sign up to go into battle without battle gear. What good is it going to do if we all soldier on and get sick?” said one hospice nurse who left her job.
She isn’t the only nurse to call it quits. In a video that has since gone viral, Imaris, a nurse in Chicago, revealed she quit her job after being asked to work in a COVID-19 unit without a mask.
“Let me feel safe,” she pleaded. “America is not prepared and nurses are not being protected.”