Trump invokes the Defense Production Act to address the coronavirus
Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, a move that many have called for him to take to help fight the coronavirus pandemic since at least earlier this week. The Act, which was originally enacted in 1950 as a measure during the Cold War, authorizes the president to require that businesses agree to contracts or orders in service of national defense, as well as permitting the president broad powers around requisitioning property, settling any labor disputes, setting wage and price controls and more in service of producing resources needed for national defense purposes.
Part of the reason that this Act is being invoked is to address the U.S.-wide shortages in basic necessities for front-line medical staff, including protective masks, gloves, and ventilators. As pointed out by a reporter in the press pool for the White House briefing today, hospitals have been sounding the alarm about the lack of adequate numbers of ventilators for weeks, signaling a pending critical shortage. Reports from this week increasingly point out the worsening situation regarding masks, too — with medical staff resorting to risky measures like disposable mask re-use and home-made solutions to make do.
“We have targets for masks, you know the masks, the numbers of masks are incredible,” Trump said during Wednesday’s briefing. “We’ve ordered millions of them, but we need millions more […] we’ve never had to even think in terms of these numbers, but we need millions of masks, and all of that will be ordered. We need respirators, we need ventilators, and that is a big thing because it’s a complex piece of equipment. So we have a lot of ventilators, but we’re going to be ordering more.”
Invoking the Defense Production Act could have far-reaching consequences for any American company making hardware or devices since the powers it grants are so broad in terms of what they allow the president to do in order to prioritize production of anything that could provide some kind of help in combating the coronavirus outbreak. For now, that production effort is likely focused on ventilators and masks, but it could expand to include the establishment of temporary emergency healthcare facilities, including makeshift hospitals and clinics along with necessary equipment.
Trump is also authorizing mobilization of two army hospital ships, the Mercy and the Comfort, in the COVID-19 relief effort, and will deploy the Mercy to NYC, while the Comfort, currently docked in San Diego, will go where needed. Both can launch within a week, he said. The Army Corps of Engineers can now also be tapped to provide support in setting up temporary facilities or taking other additional measures.