Friday, March 27, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He either got very confused and angry about ventilators, or pretended to.

Last night, Trump appeared on Sean Hannity's Fox News program to declare that he thought states were exaggerating how many ventilators they would need. He said, “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

Ventilators are, in effect, breathing machines for patients who would die without respiratory assistance. Any "major" hospital has more than two, but Trump appears to be referring to the desperate request by New York state for 30,000 more ventilators. New York has the largest number of active cases now, and hospitals in New York City are beginning to be overwhelmed. Some are already resorting to the dangerous and untested practice of hooking multiple patients up to the same respirator.

Reaction to Trump's skepticism about the need for breathing machines during an outbreak of a potentially deadly respiratory illness was not positive.

Today, Trump reversed course in spectacular fashion. Instead of attacking New York, he blasted auto manufacturers for not having already started to make respirators. He specifically attacked General Motors, and its CEO Mary Barra, for not having already retooled the Lordstown, Ohio plant that he said it had "stupidly abandoned."

In the real world, General Motors cannot make ventilators at Lordstown because it sold the plant last year—which Trump praised at the time.

More to the point, GM and Ford (which Trump also lashed out at) were not making ventilators because the Trump administration was reluctant to pay them to do so—and Trump was even more reluctant to use his legal authority to force them to do it. In Trump's tweet language, this came out as the automakers demanding "TOP DOLLAR" to make medical equipment, and forcing him to "Invoke P!"

Trump, or a staffer using the account, later clarified that "Invoke P!" referred to the Defense Production Act, which Trump could have used at any point in the last three months to force manufacturers to shore up the United States' supply of lifesaving equipment.

Trump's sudden change of heart on the need for ventilators didn't improve his mood. At today's pandemic briefing, he was asked by a reporter if every American who needed a ventilator would get one. Trump snapped back, "Don't be a cutie-pie," and moved on without answering.

The outbreak is expected to peak in New York City in the next two to three weeks. There is no reason to think that Trump "invoking P" today will be in time to help in any way.

Why does this matter?

  • The president, and no one else, is responsible for making sure that the United States government is ready to respond to emergencies.
  • Three months into a pandemic is too late to realize that sick people might need medical equipment.
  • It's wrong to blame other people for your failures.