President Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator contradicted each other within minutes this morning on whether the Defense Production Act is being used in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Around 8 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted, “The Defense Production Act is in full force, but haven’t had to use it because no one has said NO! Millions of masks coming as back up to States.”
Minutes later, FEMA administrator Pete Gaynor told CNN the administration will start wielding the powers in the Defense Production Act for 60,000 tests kits and “use the allocation portion of the DPA” starting today.
“Just a little while ago my team came in and we’re actually going to use the DPA for first time today,” Gaynor said.
In addition, FEMA will “insert some language into these mask contracts we have of 500 million masks,” Gaynor said. “DPA language will be in that today.”
Gaynor’s comments caught top White House officials off guard. One said they did not know what Gaynor was referencing and was still trying to figure it out in the hours after he was on television.
More context: The Defense Production Act is a Korean War-era law that gives the government the authority to completely control the entire supply chain, from forcing companies to manufacture the critically needed items, to taking over distribution and allocation of those supplies.
States have said they need Trump to take over the distribution aspect because the current process forces the 50 states to compete with one another, the federal government and hospitals to obtain medical supplies.
Business leaders say there are too many unknowns and volunteered to do whatever is needed to steer clear of Trump using his powers.
On CNN today, Gaynor said the federal government wants to be “thoughtful about not upsetting the balance, making sure we that can get it out to the market and the federal government not consume it all.”
“My current focus has been and will continue be to make sure we get critical supplies to those places around the country that need it the most. New York, New York City, Washington state and Los Angeles and California — that is where we are focused. And we continue to focus on that throughout the day today and until we solve that supply problem,” Gaynor said.
Gaynor came under scrutiny days earlier after an interview where he flatly declared Trump wasn’t using the act, despite the president’s inaccurate claims that he was. The President was irked that Gaynor could not give CNN an exact number or even a rough estimate of how many masks the federal government had on hand.