Defense Production Act invoked after Trump balks at $1 billion ventilator price tag from GM: report

"General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio," the president tweeted

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 27, 2020 7:07PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Photo Montage by Salon)
(Getty/Photo Montage by Salon)

President Donald Trump invoked the the Defense Production Act to force General Motors to produce ventilators despite previously insisting that doing so was not necessary.

Trump recently touted offers from GM and Ford to voluntarily help build the critical and necessary hospital equipment amid the coronavirus outbreak despite reports that it would take months for them to do so. But he reportedly reversed course on the federal legislation, which requires companies to manufacture critical equipment for the government, after GM asked for $1 billion to start producing ventilators.

"As usual with 'this' General Motors, things just never seem to work out," Trump tweeted on Friday. "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 [GM CEO] Mary [Barra]. Invoke 'P'"

"Invoke 'P' means Defense Production Act!" he added 15 minutes later.

"General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!" he said. "FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!"

Trump's reversal came after governors around the country spent weeks calling on the president to invoke the Defense Production Act in order to help states combat equipment shortages. "Not to exercise that power is inexplicable to me," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier this week.

Trump previously insisted that it was unnecessary to invoke the Defense Production Act, because companies had agreed to help voluntarily.

"The Defense Production Act is in full force, but haven't had to use it because no one has said NO!" he said on Monday.

Trump's change of heart came after his administration prepared to announce a joint venture between GM and ventilator manufacturer Ventec Life Systems to manufacture 80,000 ventilators before balking at the $1 billion price tag, The New York Times reported.

Government officials also told the outlet that the company only planned to deliver 7,500 ventilators in a short period of time after promising 20,000.

Trump similarly touted that Tesla would assist with production, but the company has not yet announced any plans to do so, according to the report.

Trump praised the companies even as Cuomo said the government was failing to deliver necessary life-saving equipment to New York, which has more than seven times as many confirmed cases of the coronavirus as the next hardest-hit state.

"FEMA is sending us 400 ventilators. Four hundred ventilators? I need 30,000 ventilators," Cuomo said earlier this week. "You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators? What are we going to do with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000 ventilators? You're missing the magnitude of the problem."

Trump attempted to downplay the need for ventilators, which are vital for saving patients with severe cases, as the deal with GM faltered.

"I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they're going to be," he told Fox News' Sean Hannity on Thursday. "I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they'll have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they're saying, 'Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'"

Hannity agreed that Cuomo's call for the ventilators was "annoying," and fellow Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt said the governor should just "take what you can get."

But Fox News medical contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier publicly pushed back on Trump's dismissive comments.

"Regardless of what anyone says, ventilators are low in supply and we need as many as we can possibly get while we continue to #SlowTheSpread," she tweeted.

Cuomo said Trump's comments do not comport with the facts on the ground.

"I don't operate on opinion," he said during a Friday briefing. "I operate based on facts, data, numbers."

It remains unclear how Trump's tweets will affect production from GM and Ford, but hospitals are increasingly concerned that they will be forced into a situation to choose who lives and who dies, which is exactly what has happened in both Italy and Spain.

"When the president says the state of New York doesn't need 30,000 ventilators, with all due respect to him, he's not looking at the facts of this astronomical growth of this crisis," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told ABC News on Friday. "If they don't have a ventilator, a lot of people are just not going to make it."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh

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Aggregate Coronavirus Defense Production Act Donald Trump Ford General Motors Politics