State governors have begged Trump to use the act to accelerate the production of life-saving ventilators.
Donald Trump on Thursday finally invoked the Defense Production Act to direct private companies to produce life-saving ventilators — 15 days after he first said he was going to use the law to help battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Today, I have issued an order under the Defense Production Act to more fully ensure that domestic manufacturers can produce ventilators needed to save American lives," Trump said in a statement.
The act was passed in 1950 and first used during the Korean War to allow the federal government to order private companies to produce needed items.
Trump first mentioned it at a news conference on March 18: "We'll be invoking the Defense Production Act, just in case we need it. ... It can do a lot of good things if we need it."
But more than two weeks later, he had yet to actually put it to use, despite desperate pleas from governors who said their states were projecting a shortage of ventilators.
Since he first mentioned the act on March 18, a total of 5,530 people in the United States died from the virus, according to statistics compiled by the Washington Post.
Issuing orders under the act would not have been extraordinary; it has been invoked hundreds of thousands of times since Trump became president, according to a report from the New York Times. But Trump resisted using it for the coronavirus.
"We're a country not based on nationalizing our business," Trump said at a March 22 news conference, days after he first said he was going to put the DPA to use. "Call a person over in Venezuela; ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out. Not too well. The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept."
New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo — whose state is seeing the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the country — had criticized Trump for not putting the act to use, noting that private companies needed guidance in responding to the pandemic.
"It can't just be, 'Hey who wants to help? Let me know,'" Cuomo said on March 24. "We need to know the numbers of what we need to produce and who is going to produce that and when."
Cuomo and other governors across the country have said that Trump needed to ensure states wouldn't have to bid against each other to obtain critical equipment and supplies.
"We've had to go out onto the open market to find both surgical masks and N95 masks … and we're competing against federal government, we're competing against big states like New York and California, we're competing against other countries because the president has not invoked or used the Defense Production Act to help us with all the needs we have," Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said on Tuesday.
After officially invoking the act, Trump said it will "save lives by removing obstacles in the supply chain that threaten the rapid production of ventilators."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.