Trump Reluctant to 'Nationalize' U.S. Industry When Companies Are Voluntarily Offering Help

Susan Jones | March 23, 2020 | 4:41am EDT
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(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

( - President Donald Trump was asked on Sunday why he won't use the powers given to him by the Defense Production Act to require companies to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, as many Democrats are demanding.

Trump said he'll invoke the law if he must, but with companies coming forward to volunteer production, he doesn't want to "nationalize" U.S. industry.

(Trump tweeted last week, "I only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future.")

Trump repeated his position at a Sunday evening news conference:

“The fact that I signed it -- it's in effect. But you know, we're a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them, how did nationalization of their business work out? Not too well. The concept of nationalizing our businesses -- not a good concept.”

Trump said eventually, he may have to force companies to begin mass production of in-demand goods, such as hospital masks, gowns, and ventilators, but that time has not yet come:

We may have to use it some place along the (supply) chain, but we're getting calls. Here's the beauty of it. We go out and if we want, let's say masks. We don't know who to call to make masks, but Hanes, who makes things of cotton -- various elements, lots of things, it's a great company.

They called us and they said, we're going to make millions of masks. We got a call today from 3M, there's a big article today, the head of 3M, they're going to make tremendous products, and they're more or less in that business...General Motors spoke to us, Ford spoke to us about doing ventilators. The beauty is, they're calling us.

If you go the nationalization route, we're going to tell a company to make a ventilator -- they don't even know what a ventilator is.

Trump described ventilator as a "complex piece of equipment" that not every company knows how to make.

Trump repeated that he "has the threat" of invoking the Defense Powers Act, but "using it is a big deal."

On March 13, dozens of Democrats -- echoing calls by some Democrat governors -- sent a letter to President Trump urging him to "properly address the pandemic" by invoking the Defense Production Act "without delay."

Peter Gaynor, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that FEMA has been shipping supplies from the national stockpile "for weeks."

"We're linking supplies, not only from the national stockpile, but from vendors and commercial donations. And it's just not about the federal government buying it. It's also about those hospitals and other facilities, governors, that if you find it on the market, go ahead and buy it. FEMA will reimburse you for it. So, this is a shared responsibility," Gaynor said.

Host Jake Tapper asked Gaynor if -- as of Sunday morning -- President Trump had ordered any companies to produce critical supplies?

"No," Gaynor said:

We haven't yet. It really is leverage, I think, that to demonstrate that we can use it, the president can use it any time.

And it's really amazing that -- how great America is. All these companies are coming up asking us what they can do to help. And we haven't had to use it, because companies around the country, donations, they are saying, what can we do to help you? And it's happening without using that -- that lever.

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 said FEMA is prioritizing PPE requests from the governors of hard-hit states -- New York, California and Washington: "And then, if you don't need it right away, then you're going to be a little bit farther down the list, but we will -- we will get to you."

Gaynor said the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA already are constructing hospital tents to prepare for an anticipated influx of coronavirus patients:

"We did it in D.C. We're about to do it in a couple of states," including New York, Gaynor said.

"Again, we're trying to focus on where the need is, right? We don't want to waste our precious resources.

“So, the team behind me (is) making sure that the resources that we have, whether it's beds, alternate care facilities, the capacity of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we put it in the right place at the right time. And it's happening today, and you will see it happening more over the next few days."


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