President Trump on Friday used war-time production powers to require General Motors to “accept, perform, and prioritize” federal contracts for ventilators.
Mr. Trump had invoked the Defense Production Act for leverage over U.S. companies some time ago. Yet he hadn’t been forcing industries to make anything, saying they’d come forward on their own.
The president said he ran out of patience with GM, an automaker, as it shifted its efforts toward the coronavirus.
“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” Mr. Trump said. “GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.”
The order came hours after GM said it would marshal 1,000 American workers to build ventilators with Ventec Life Systems at a plant in Indiana.
Ventilators, which help people breathe, are vital to the coronavirus response since the virus causes respiratory distress.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other governors have pleaded with Mr. Trump to find and ship more ventilators to their hospitals, saying it’s too difficult for them to find them on the open market.
Mr. Trump said by working with GM and other companies, he expects to make or procure 100,000 ventilators in the next 100 days.
“If they need them in New York, we’re gonna have plenty,” he said.
The president continued to insist that he doesn’t think the U.S. will need that many ventilators, however, even musing that any surplus might be sent to other countries.
“We can help Italy, we can help U.K.,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s order empowers Health Secretary Alex Azar to compel production from GM.
“The secretary shall use any and all authority available under the act to require General Motors Company to accept, perform, and prioritize contracts or orders for the number of ventilators that the secretary determines to be appropriate,” a memorandum on the order says.
Mr. Trump previously resisted “nationalizing” U.S. industries and said the Defense Production Act served as great leverage.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said taking the next step was the right move.
“We can’t follow Italy; we must build more ventilators NOW to save lives tomorrow,” he said.
The U.S. has recorded roughly 100,000 coronavirus infections, overtaking Italy and China for the most in the world. About 1,500 people in the country have died and nearly 900 have officially recovered from the disease, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
GM previously agreed to produce ventilators with Ventec Life Systems, Inc.
The New York Times reported the administration pulled back from purchasing tens of thousands of the machines after the price tag came in at $1 billion. The paper said while the deal was not dead, the Federal Emergency Management Agency wanted to shop around.
The Trump administration blamed GM for the hiccups.
“We thought we had a deal for 40,000 ventilators and all of a sudden 40,000 came down to 6,000. And then they talked about a higher price than we were discussing,” Mr. Trump said from the Oval Office. “So I didn’t like it. So we did activate it with respect to General Motors. Hopefully, we won’t need the full activation. We’ll find out but we need the ventilators.”
Earlier Friday, he said GM should produce the ventilators at its “stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant.”
GM no longer owns the Lordstown plant. It sold the plant to Workhorse, which makes electric trucks. Mr. Trump trumpeted the sale on Twitter at the time.
Mr. Trump reiterated his grievances over the company generally, citing its decision to move out of Lordstown despite his pledge to preserve blue-collar jobs.
Peter Navarro, assistant to the president, also said a long list of companies that have come forward to produce medical gear but said it ran into “roadblocks” with GM.
GM, for its part, said it has been working hard to fulfill the federal government’s needs.
“Ventec, GM and our supply base have been working around the clock for weeks to meet this urgent need. Our commitment to build Ventec’s high-quality critical care ventilator, VOCSN, has never wavered,” GM said in a statement. “The partnership between Ventec and GM combines global expertise in manufacturing quality and a joint commitment to safety to give medical professionals and patients access to life-saving technology as rapidly as possible. The entire GM team is proud to support this initiative.”
Mr. Trump also said aerospace company Boeing will be producing face masks for hospital workers.
“There’s going to do thousands of these per week,” Mr. Trump said.
The White House also praised Apple for producing a website that helps Americans determine whether they should be tested for the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.