- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2020

Top House Democrats objected Friday to White House plans to send hundreds of ventilators to Russia at a taxpayer cost of $5.6 million, saying the “gift to President Putin” is unjustified given the ongoing pandemic and needs at home.

“We are deeply concerned with recent reports that you are providing critical, life-saving ventilators to Russia when they are urgently needed here in the United States to combat the coronavirus crisis and save American lives,” House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot E. Engel wrote.

“The United States has had more coronavirus cases and more deaths as a result of the virus than any nation on Earth,” they added. “In fact, the United States has had more coronavirus deaths than the next several highest countries combined.”

The Democrats were referring to a formal notification to Congress that said the U.S. plans to dispatch “ventilators and related commodities and consumables” to the Russian Federation.

Ms. Maloney and Mr. Engel said the gift appeared unnecessary, given Russia’s nearly $1.7 trillion gross domestic product. They also complained that Mr. Trump was using “extraordinary authorities to overcome the myriad of restrictions Congress has placed on providing U.S. funding to Russia.”

Russia appeared to duck the worst of the pandemic early on, but cases and deaths have surged there, placing unusual pressure on President Vladimir Putin. The country’s tallied 326,000 infections, putting it behind only the U.S. in terms of recorded cases worldwide.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration scrambled to manufacture ventilators that help COVID-19 patients breathe when they can no longer do it on their own. The illness and the body’s immune response causes havoc on the lungs.

Mr. Trump invoked wartime production powers to produce more of the machines from private companies. Despite early fears, Mr. Trump frequently boasts that no one in the country died because hospitals couldn’t find a ventilator.

He says the U.S. is the “king of ventilators” and will be dispatching them to various countries in need.

“With the United States now on track to produce over 100,000 high-quality ventilators by the end of the July 2020, by far the highest production of ventilators in history, the president continues to reach out to our partners and allies around the world to ensure they can have access to high-quality, America-made, life-saving ventilators to meet their medical needs,” National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said. “In turn, we have encouraged our foreign partners to increase their own domestic production of these products as well.”

The pandemic is slowing across America but isn’t over, and the virus might attack the U.S. in a second wave this fall. For that reason, Democratic lawmakers say they should safeguard the machines.

“Instead, it appears you may be providing or selling ventilators to other countries as gifts or favors to serve your own political or personal interests without any meaningful strategic justification, thorough interagency process, or policy rationale for doing so,” the lawmakers wrote.

In response, Mr. Ullyot said “while the U.S. government’s first and foremost responsibility is to the American people, we are a nation of generosity and compassion. The United States will help other nations where and when possible, without detracting from our domestic needs.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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