Hours After Doubting the Need for 40,000 Ventilators, Trump Demanded 40,000 Ventilators

“You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators.”

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus on March 25, 2020.Alex Brandon/AP

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With almost half of US novel coronavirus deaths in New York City and 44,000 people already infected there, Governor Andrew Cuomo asked the federal government for 30,000 ventilators on Tuesday to bolster the increasingly overwhelmed state healthcare system—where supply shortages, especially in New York City, are a major concern. Thursday night, President Donald Trump, during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity disagreed.

“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Trump told Hannity. “You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators.”

By Friday morning, the tune and the villain had changed. Ventilators were now a priority, the President tweeted, while slamming General Motors for not producing what he said they promised.  The automobile manufacturer had been working to strike a deal with the administration to build thousands of ventilators. In a tweet, Trump criticized the company and its chief executive, Mary Barra, for sluggishness, while appearing to invoke the Defense Production Act, the federal law that can be used to compel manufacturers to expand the production of essential materials:

Minutes later, in a second emphatic tweet, Trump demanded that General Motors revive a shuttered Ohio automobile factory that it had sold to another car company more than a year ago.

General Motors’ plans to open up production of ventilator masks had been weeks in the making. Though, according to reporting from Bloomberg, delays were caused by the administration, not the car manufacturer:

GM was growing exasperated with the Trump administration because after more than a week of around-the-clock work, the carmaker and Ventec had turned an auto-parts plant in Kokomo, Indiana, into a near-ready ventilator-assembly facility. Suppliers are secured for the 700 components needed to make the machines. The automaker has even started hiring because the 300 workers on staff won’t be enough to handle the proposed volume, a person familiar with the situation said.

In fact, the Trump administration was planning to announce the partnership on Wednesday, but negotiations on pricing fell through, according to the New York Times, “after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it needed more time to assess whether the estimated cost was prohibitive.”

Meanwhile, General Motors is already positioning itself to “GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST.” It just needs the administration to decide whether it actually wants to pay for them.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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