Trump invokes Defense Production Act to force GM to make ventilators for coronavirus fight

The president excoriated General Motors and its CEO, Mary Barra, in a tweet for not moving quickly enough to produce needed ventilators.

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By Dartunorro Clark

President Donald Trump invoked the rarely used Defense Production Act on Friday to order the Department of Health and Human Services to compel General Motors to manufacturer ventilators hours after he sharply criticized the company for slow-walking production.

"Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course," Trump said in a statement. "GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives."

Fearful of infection rates spiking, health officials and lawmakers in many parts of the country have said they are in dire need of ventilators, particularly as the U.S. surpassed 100,000 coronavirus cases on Friday, the most of any country, according to an NBC News count.

Trump, in a tweet on Friday, excoriated General Motors and its CEO, Mary Barra, for not moving quickly enough to produce needed ventilators amid the coronavirus pandemic and wanting “top dollar” for the contract.

“As usual with ‘this’ General Motors, things just never seem to work out,” Trump tweeted. “They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, ‘very quickly’. Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B. Invoke ‘P.’”

He followed up in a tweet by saying that “Invoke P” referred to invoking the Defense Production Act.

At a Friday briefing, Trump announced that Peter Navarro, the White House trade adviser, would be the policy coordinator overseeing the administration's enforcement of the Defense Protection Act.

Trump himself has been criticized for not quickly invoking his authority to use the act as the nation's hospitals and health care facilities are in dire need of critical medical supplies. He announced he would use the act this month, but did not invoke it until Friday.

In a statement to NBC News on Friday, Daniel Flores, a spokesman from General Motors, said the company is proud to work with the government.

"Ventec, GM and our supply base have been working around the clock for over a week to meet this urgent need. Our commitment to build Ventec’s high-quality critical care ventilator, VOCSN, has never wavered," he said.

"The partnership between Ventec and GM combines global expertise in manufacturing quality and a joint commitment to safety to give medical professionals and patients access to life-saving technology as rapidly as possible. The entire GM team is proud to support this initiative."

Trump told reporters at Friday's briefing that prior to talking to General Motors about building ventilators, he had concerns about the company moving manufacturing out of the U.S. and into foreign countries, particularly when the auto giant closed a plant in Lordstown, Ohio last year.

“I didn’t go into it with a very favorable view," he said. "I was extremely unhappy with Lordstown, Ohio, when they left Lordstown, Ohio, in the middle of an auto boom.”

Trump later added that there was a breakdown in negotiations with the automaker over the number of ventilators promised and the cost.

"We don't want prices to be double, triple what they should be," he said. "General Motors, we will see what now they are talking."

Trump praised other manufacturers for working with the administration voluntarily. He noted that Phillips, Ford, General Electric and others are working to build ventilators. He said that Boeing is working on making thousands of masks and using three of its planes, which can each hold 63,000 pounds of cargo, to distribute medical supplies across the country.

Trump said that the Federal Drug Administration is also working to reduce “unnecessary regulations” to speed up manufacturing.

“Within the next 100 days we will either make, or get in some form, over 100,000 additional units and I guess to put it in other words, in the next 100 days we will receive over three times the number of ventilators made during the regular year in the United States,” he said.

Trump added that if there is a surplus of ventilators he will help other countries in need of the equipment, such as Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.

He also said that he signed an executive order to mobilize “medical disaster and emergency response personnel to help wage our battle against the virus.” Trump said the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security will lead this effort and medical personnel will include service members and retirees.

Governors across the country have been pressing the administration to activate the act so that states are prepared if the infection rates increase hospitalizations.

New York Gov. Cuomo, a Democrat who has been critical of the administration and whose state has the highest number of cases in the country, praised the decision to use the act in a tweet on Friday.

"We desperately needed the Defense Production Act invoked to ensure the production of life-saving ventilators. We are relieved that just happened," he said "Lives depend on it."

But Trump took aim at some governors during Friday's briefing for not being "appreciative" of the administration's efforts, particularly taking aim at Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, also a Democrat, who he called at one point "that woman in Michigan."

The President said most of the governors are doing a good job but, “The couple that aren't appreciative of the incredible job. They have to do a better job themselves. That's part of the problem.”

Both Inslee, Whitmer and other governors have called on the president to take more dramatic action and to speed up supplies to their respective states.

However, Trump told Vice President Mike Pence during the briefing, “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call."

He added, "all I want them to do is 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.”