After resisting pressure to do so for days, United State President Donald Trump on Friday said he would be using the powers vested in him under the Defense Production Act to force General Motors to manufacture ventilators desperately needed by hospitals fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
The act gives the president powers to steer domestic industrial production towards the manufacture of goods needed in a national security crisis.
Trump first invoked the act on March 18 but said he would not make use of the authority except in a “worst-case scenario”. At the time, he said he hoped there would be no need to use it and that companies were voluntarily providing the necessary supplies.
The White House had been in negotiations with General Motors and another company, Ventec Life Systems, on a deal to produce up to 80,000 of the ventilators that help move oxygen in and out of the lungs of patients who are unable to breathe on their own.
On Friday, however, Trump said on Twitter that the deal “did not work out” and singled out GM CEO Mary Barra for criticism. He said he would be invoking the act after all, and called on the company to reopen its mothballed plant in Lordstown, Ohio, “or some other plant, AND START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!”
Trump had been under pressure for days from Democratic legislators and others who said invoking the act was critical to addressing the shortages in medical equipment hampering state and local efforts to get a grip on the pandemic.
“The problem is that the private sector supply chain has broken down. It has just simply broken down,” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said on a call with reporters on Thursday. “It is a ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenario today in which supply is not heading to areas of need, but is instead heading to places where the money is or where the political connections exist.”
Murphy and another Democratic senator, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, have introduced a bill, the Medical Supply Chain Emergency Act, which would require Trump to use his DPA powers to boost emergency production in the private sector.
“It is time to federalise the national, critical medical supply chain,” Murphy said on Thursday.