Trump—amid criticism from both sides—has thus far only used the act sparingly.
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Topline: While President Trump originally signed the Defense Production Act March 18—amid mounting calls for him to compel companies to produce much-needed medical supplies—he’s been conservative with its use, invoking it on only a few occasions. Here’s a running list of times he’s used it so far:
- While naming 3M as one of the companies listed in his order last Thursday, Trump criticized the company for continuing to export masks to Latin America and Canada, saying that they “will have a big price to pay.”
- In a statement on Friday, 3M responded to Trump invoking the Defense Production Act: The Minnesota-based company said they would supply the federal government with the N95 masks they need, but crucially warned that “ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same.”
- Earlier on Thursday, Trump’s top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, said the White House “had some issues” with 3M and its international exports of medical supplies.
- On March 27, following a tirade on Twitter criticizing General Motors and its CEO Mary T. Barra, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to “accept, perform and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators.”
- Earlier in the day, GM had announced a partnership with Ventec Life Systems to produce 10,000 ventilators per month at its Kokomo, Indiana, facility, a collaboration that began over a week before the act’s invocation.
- According to a report from Politico, it’s not entirely clear how GM reacted to the order, as Navarro said no daily updates had begun, and Sam Abuelsamid, a senior automotive analyst at consulting firm Navigant, said “I have no reason to believe it was anything other than rhetorical flourish.”
- GM’s partner, Ventec, reportedly still doesn’t have confirmation from the White House on what type of ventilators it wants, at what price or even the amount needed, according to the New York Times.
- The president Thursday invoked the Defense Production Act to get supplies to these six manufacturers so they can build ventilators: Medtronic, Hill-Rom, Res Med, Vyaire Medical, Royal Philips and General Electric.
Surprising fact: A day before using the act on GM, Trump mentioned in his briefing he had used it on “two minor occasions” without elaborating. He was possibly referring to its use to prevent price gouging and hoarding of supplies in a statement on March 23.
Key Background: The Defense Production Act of 1950 was enacted at the outset of the Korean War and allows the federal government to compel the private sector through purchase commitments and loan guarantees to produce equipment for the benefit of national defense. While Trump claimed he would invoke the act on March 18, he continued to delay its use, arguing that private companies were volunteering and that the federal government isn’t a “shipping clerk.” After using the act to compel General Motors to manufacture ventilators—something it had already been doing for over a week—Trump put his top trade adviser Peter Navarro in charge of overseeing the acts use.
Chief Critic: Governors, senators and over a hundred former national security officials from both sides of the political aisle have been urging the president to take full advantage of the Defense Production Act, not only to address widespread supply shortages, but to better coordinate where supplies get distributed across the country given governors are bidding against other states and federal agencies to procure equipment. “Look at the bizarre situation we wind up in: Every state does its own purchasing,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on March 31. “It’s like being on eBay, with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator.”
Crucial Quote: Part of Trump’s hesitation to use the act appears to be his fears that it represents a nationalization of industry, though the Defense Production Act includes payment to the companies themselves. In reaction to the sentiment, Cuomo said, “Yes, it is an assertion of government power on private sector companies. But so what. This is a national emergency.”
Big Number: 960,000. That’s how many coronavirus patients may need to use a ventilator, according to an estimate from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. According to Cuomo on April 2, New York only has six days of ventilators left in its stockpile. He added, “our attitude here is we’re on our own,” because “I don’t think the federal government is in a position to provide ventilators to the extent that the nation may need them.”