This week’s drama over whether GM would produce ventilators to help fight the coronavirus pandemic came to a fittingly bizarre conclusion today, with GM saying it was working “around the clock” to make the ventilators and—a few hours after that—President Trump invoking the Defense Production Act to require it do so.
Whether the Trump administration move will actually speed up the production of the ventilators is an open question, since GM had already said Friday that they intended to make ventilators at a plant in Kokomo, Indiana, in partnership with a company called Ventec. GM said that even after Trump spent the late morning insulting the company and its CEO Mary Barra over the ventilators.
In its release before the Trump order, GM said in part:
Ventec and GM are working around the clock to meet the urgent need for more ventilators. Efforts to set up tooling and manufacturing capacity at the GM Kokomo facility are already underway to produce Ventec’s critical care ventilator, VOCSN. Depending on the needs of the federal government, Ventec and GM are poised to deliver the first ventilators next month and ramp up to a manufacturing capacity of more than 10,000 critical care ventilators per month with the infrastructure and capability to scale further.
GM’s release was sent around noon, while the Trump order came about four hours later, completing a whiplash news cycle that I think began last week but since I don’t have a sense of time anymore I can’t tell.
The Defense Production Act was enacted in 1950 at the beginning of the Korean War to give presidents the ability to require American companies to accept federal contracts that are deemed necessary for national defense.
Lawmakers on state and federal levels, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, have urged Trump for days to use the legislation to compel American companies to make ventilators, masks, coronavirus tests, and other needed supplies.
But Trump has up until now refused to do so, saying that doing so would be like “nationalizing” industry, you know, like Venezuela or something.
Trump’s use of the law follows an earlier series of tweets Friday about GM, in which he threatened to “invoke ‘P’,” which was not actually a reference to any sort of tape, but which he later explained was a reference to the Defense Production Act.
It also follows boasts from Trump that he had used the act even though he hadn’t in any real sense.
The White House was reportedly on the verge of announcing Wednesday that GM and Ventec would be making the ventilators but that deal apparently fell apart over the cost, reported to be over $1 billion, which seems like a lot of money until you consider that the president today signed a $2.2 trillion rescue bill.
The U.S. is in dire need of ventilators as more and more people are hospitalized with coronavirus, which attacks your respiratory system, among other parts of your body. New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., has said it needs up to 30,000 ventilators.