Ventilators, masks, protective clothing, gloves, swabs, and these life-threatening medical devices are almost indispensable to American hospitals.
President Trump can solve this problem. He has the right to use extraordinary means to force US manufacturers to produce specified products and give priority to supplying them to the government. He did the same: On March 18, Trump announced that he had launched the National Defense Production Act and said: “In a sense, I am now a wartime president.”
But half a month later, Americans still don’t know whether the National Defense Production Act has been launched. In the public statement, the President has been inconsistent with this. The officials of the subordinates agreed that the US federal and state governments are still singing their own tunes.
“We are basically repeating Herbert Hoover’s mistakes in the early days of the Great Depression,” New York Mayor Bai Sihao said in an interview with New York Public Radio (WNYC), “Minimizing the danger and refusing to take the federal government can take Action.”
Perform a slow half-shot
“We will launch the “Defense Production Act” in case of unexpected needs.” On March 18, Trump said on Twitter. “If we need it, it can do a lot of good things.”
The National Defense Production Act can be called a “big kill.” It allows the US federal government to exercise control over the private sector to ensure the production of materials needed for national defense. Through it, Trump will be able to prompt American manufacturers, such as automakers and apparel companies, to shift production focus to manufacturing medical equipment and supplies for hospitals and medical workers. The bill allows the government to change the order in which companies fulfill their contractual obligations, giving them priority in government contracts; allows the government to provide secured loans to help companies convert their production; the bill also empowers the federal government to decide how to distribute these vital scarce materials.
According to the bill, Trump can even allow companies to “employ people with outstanding experience and capabilities, and establish a voluntary industry executive bank, these people can be summoned to government services to safeguard national defense interests.” Trump has named Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, on Twitter, and GM may also be involved. Trump also mentioned Hanes, a clothing company.
The US Congress approved the bill during the Korean War in 1950 to help the government reserve wartime materials such as aluminum and copper. During the Cold War, many US presidents used it to strengthen the US defense industry. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Congress expanded the scope of the bill from military to other areas, including public health and safety. The bill was reauthorized last year and its validity period has been extended to 2025.
Trump won praise for his self-proclaimed “wartime president.” “This is actually a good analogy,” the historian Michael Beslows, author of the book “President of War”, told the Washington Post. “It means that the president is playing the role of’commander of the armed forces, trying to Coordinate all the powers of the federal government to solve problems and be consistent with the American people.”
“The President is brazenly seizing his only clear choice to continue his hope of re-election and portraying himself as a responsible leader that the United States cannot lose.” The New York Times, who has always been “not dealing with” Trump Sorrowfully wrote.
But there is a cloud on the “wartime president” halo, which is the state of the “Defense Production Act.” Americans have not yet figured out whether Trump really intends to use wartime power to fight what he calls “invisible enemies.”
On March 18, Trump tweeted that only in the “worst case” would he use the broad powers granted by the bill. On the 19th, the tone changed: He insisted that raising medical equipment should be “the work of the governors”, and the federal government “is not a delivery.” On the 20th, the President announced on Twitter that he had officially launched the “Defense Production Act” and used it to accelerate the production of “millions of masks”, but did not provide evidence and no company said that it had received it. Had such an order.
What can be determined at present is that at least part of the bill has indeed been launched. On March 27, Trump signed a presidential memorandum instructing the US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Aza to exercise the powers granted by the National Defense Production Act to fight the epidemic. The federal government can now “cut in line” with manufacturers, but that’s all; stronger provisions in the law—including allowing the government to requisition private jets, or using federal funds to involve other industries in the production of masks—have not been activated .
Use power leverage carefully
Trump’s vague attitude has angered Democrats and more and more governors in Congress. Senator Minority Leader and New York State Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said on March 20 that he had a phone conversation with Trump to discuss a whole host of issues, including the launch of the National Defense Production Act. A Schumer spokesperson said that their conversation about the bill was like this:
Schumer urged Trump to immediately launch the National Defense Production Act to provide ventilators and other important medical equipment to those in need. Trump told Schumer that he would do it, and then the president shouted to the people in the office to let them do it now.
Other Democrats severely accused Trump of not acting quickly. “What is he waiting for?” said former Vice President Joe Biden. “He said he was a wartime president. God, act like a little. Move and hurry up.” This sentence is quoted from President Lincoln’s letter to the less active North Army commander General McClellan during the Civil War , The latter sentence is: “If you don’t want to use the army, can I borrow it?”
Launching the National Defense Production Act is not an extraordinary event, it only needs to go through the procedure. For decades, US presidents have frequently used the bill for large and small reasons, Obama has used it twice, and Trump himself also launched the bill last year to increase rare earth production capacity. Obviously, this time the White House was not unable, but unwilling.
Trump’s reason for this is that the governors are already trying to make American companies produce ventilators and masks, and American companies have already done so. “General Motors, Ford Motor, so many companies, I have already received three calls without saying,’You have to do this, these companies are doing it now.” He said on March 22. “We are really surrounded by companies that want to help…no problem at all.”
At the press conference on the same day, when asked why he did not exercise more federal power under the National Defense Production Act, Trump said it would be similar to the nationalization of industry in countries such as Venezuela.
“Our country is not based on the nationalization of enterprises.” Trump said, “Nationalization of our business is not a good idea… We have already said, if necessary, we will do so. ”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Peter Gayner also helped CNN’s “State of the Union” program on the same day, describing the bill as a “leverage” for the government to move forward, and said, ” If it is time for us to pull the lever, we will do so.”
Not pulling the lever is not just out of conservative thinking. Business leaders have already stated that it is not necessary to start the bill. John Murphy, senior vice president of international policy for the American Chamber of Commerce, said, “The National Defense Production Act is designed for defense industrial products. These products have only one supplier, usually a pure domestic production chain, in pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. The implementation of this law by the industry will do more harm than good.”
On CNN’s program, Gayner also said that the White House is satisfied with the way companies respond to the epidemic. “The greatness of America is amazing.” He said, “All these companies have come and asked us what help they can provide.”
Trump also wrote on Twitter that day: “Ford, General Motors and Tesla are authorized to manufacture ventilators and other products, fast!”
“Go on, car executives, let’s see how good you are.” Trump added.
Large auto companies such as Ford said they are studying the feasibility of manufacturing ventilators, but have not promised how fast the production will be once the construction starts.
On March 26, workers produced personal hygiene products at the Brooklyn Navy Dock.
The White House’s optimistic view of the company’s ability to act has met with strong opposition from the governors.
“It’s like a wild west.” Illinois Governor and Democrat Jay Pritzker told CNN. He complained that the states were about to break the scalp for masks, and even the state and the federal bid for each other. “Frankly, I let everyone call and send these things to Illinois.” Pritzker said.
“We need these things now.” Andrew Como, Governor of New York, said at a press conference on March 22, “Hospitals throughout the state are crying. I have talked to governors across the country about their situation. It’s the same.” The Democratic governor said that the Trump administration must “order factories” to produce “basic materials” and launch the National Defense Production Act as soon as possible, calling it the “difference between life and death”. Even some Republican governors said they had difficulty relying on private suppliers to provide medical supplies.
Anthony Fuch, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Trump’s influential nonpartisan adviser, stood up to defend the president’s decision. “The president means that these companies stand up on their own.” Fuch said on CBS’s “Facing the Nation” program. “I think this is an extraordinary spirit in the American spirit. Be suspicious.”
In fact, many officials of the Trump administration believe that the fight against the epidemic should be implemented by the local government and managed by the state government. The role of the federal government is only to support. It is not appropriate for the White House to issue orders to the states. “I want to say that if you can find it on the open market (the ventilator), then go buy it.” FEMA Director Gainer told NBC, “Any governor who needs it, you find it, go Buy. In the current emergency, FEMA will compensate you.”
There are many people who agree with this view.
“When we say that the president has the power of war, he actually puts it in the military context.” Historian Douglas Brinkley said, “If the United States is attacked by a nuclear attack, the president will issue a final order to the US military. And this is very different from diseases such as coronavirus. Coronavirus is a health crisis, and it is Congress and the states that really have power.”
On Twitter, Trump dismissed Illinois Governor Pritzker as a member of a conspiracy group that opposed him, which includes “a small group of other governors” and CNN.
“We are building hospitals for them, we are building medical centers for them, and he is complaining.” Trump said, “I’m not blaming him or anyone else, but he shouldn’t say that to us. It stands to reason. He should buy a ventilator himself.”