After days of desperate pleas from the nation’s governors, U.S. President Donald Trump took a round of steps Friday to expand the federal government’s role in helping produce critically needed supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic even as he warned the leaders of hard-hit states not to cross him.
“I want them to be appreciative,” Trump said after the White House announced that he would be using the powers granted to him under the Korean War-era Defence Production Act to try to compel auto giant General Motors to produce ventilators.
Yet Trump — who hours earlier had suggested the need for the devices was being overblown — rejected any criticism of the federal government’s response to a ballooning public health crisis that a month ago he predicted would be over by now.
“We have done a hell of a job,” Trump said, as he sent an ominous message to state and local leaders who have been urging the federal government to do more to help them save lives.
Trump said he had instructed Vice-President Mike Pence not to call the governors of Washington or Michigan — two coronavirus hotspots — because of their public criticism. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” Trump said.
The comments came after Trump unveiled a slew of executive actions to bolster states’ capacities to respond to the pandemic, including authorizing Defence Secretary Mark Esper to call up an unspecified number of federal reservists to help with the coronavirus response.
Friday’s invocation “should demonstrate clearly to all that we will not hesitate to use the full authority of the federal government to combat this crisis,” Trump said.
Trump had been saying for more than a week that he was reluctant to use the Defence Production Act — even after he invoked it — because companies were already doing what he wanted and he didn’t need arm-twisting to make them comply.
Yet Trump continued to suggest that states’ own failures were to blame for the needed intervention. “Normally these would be bought for states, just so you understand,” he said.
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The president has been under growing pressure from the nation’s governors to do more to bolster supplies, despite the perceived risks of speaking out. From New York to Washington, they have pleaded with him to use the DPA to force companies to manufacture critical equipment. And they have begged for help in obtaining supplies like masks and testing agents, saying that states have been forced to compete against one another as well as the federal government on the open market, driving up prices, even as federal officials have pledged their help if states fail.
The notoriously thin-skinned Trump has not taken well to their criticism. Instead, he has lashed out at governors, continued to diminish the risk posed by the virus and insisted that the federal government was only a “backup” as he looked to avoid political costs from a pandemic that has reshaped his presidency and tested his reelection plans.