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Former Vice President Joe Biden issued on Sunday a harsh criticism of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – saying Trump “neglected, minimized and lied about this virus” while ignoring warnings from the country’s top public health and intelligence officials on the threat it posed to the United States.
Biden – the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination – also hit Trump for claiming that he had set in motion the Defense Production Act to quickly ramp up the fabrication of medical masks and other supplies that are in short supply to battle the contagion’s outbreak, despite the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Sunday saying otherwise.
“[D]espite telling the American people that he was using the Defense Production Act to bring the full force of our government to protect our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals and get them the devices that they need to save Americans in hospitals who are literally struggling to breathe, his lead emergency management official says it is not true,” Biden said in a statement.
He added: “Mr. President, stop lying and start acting. Use the full extent of your authorities, now, to ensure that we are producing all essential goods and delivering them where they need to go.”
The Defense Production Act, which was first enacted in 1950 as a response to the Korean War and has since been re-invoked more than 50 times, is meant streamline production of medical supplies to help the country battle the coronavirus pandemic and require businesses to sign contracts or fulfill orders deemed necessary for national defense.
Under the act, companies are required to accept and prioritize contracts from the government and to prioritize “materials, services and facilities to promote the national defense or to maximize domestic energy supplies.” While this provision has historically been used to ramp up military production, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic the act will be used for medical supplies.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he implored Trump during a phone call Friday to invoke the Korean War-era act immediately to order the manufacture of ventilators and other critically needed medical gear.
The president told Schumer he would, then could be heard on the telephone making the order. He yelled to someone in his office to do it now, said Schumer’s spokesman, Justin Goodman.
FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor, however, said during an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the administration had not yet ordered any companies to ramp up production of any critical supplies.
“We haven't yet,” Gaynor said. “It really is leverage, I think that to demonstrate that we can use it, the president can use it any time.”
Gaynor added: “If it comes to a point we have to pull the level, we will. But, right now, it is really – it's really a great sign about the greatness of this country.”
Gaynor attempts to assuage the growing concerns across the country that healthcare workers – especially in virus hotspots like New York and California – could soon run out of supplies as the crisis worsens appeared to do little to help as Biden’s criticism was echoed by a number of governors across the country.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York – the hardest hit so far by the coronavirus with more than 15,000 reported cases – urged the federal government to take over the distribution of medical supplies for the crisis as state’s are currently competing with one another to obtain masks and other materials.
“Sometimes the federal government is better equipped when it comes to buying the supplies and the volume,” Cuomo said on CNN. “Let the federal government take the responsibility. And number two, let them use the federal Defense Production Act, where the president can say to the manufacturers, ‘I want you to make these products, stop making what you're making, make these because it's a matter of public health.’”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.