President Trump, in an about-face, on Friday announced that he will invoke the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to ramp up its planned production of ventilators – even as the company said that it had already been planning to build as many as 200,000 of the breathing devices.
Trump said that the order will “require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators." In a statement, he said the contracting process with the automaker was not moving quickly enough.
Trump had previously hesitated to invoke the Cold War-era act to direct industries to start making ventilators, respirators, face masks, and other medical equipment now in short supply due to the spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. However, he changed course Friday afternoon after unleashing an hours-long Twitter tirade at GM and its chief, Mary Barra – which itself came in the wake of an eyepopping New York Times report late Thursday that the president had abruptly scuttled a deal with GM for 80,000 ventilators.
Adding to the confusion, the president’s announcement came just hours after GM announced that it was already working with Ventec Life Systems, a medical device manufacturer, to secure the parts and assembly lines needed to make as many as 200,000 ventilators. Ventec will begin making the breathing devices at a GM factory in Indiana.
GM meanwhile said that it will start manufacturing surgical masks next week at its plant in Warren, Michigan. The automaker hopes to produce 50,000 masks a day in as soon as two weeks, and as many as 100,000 masks a day if needed. The plan is expected to put 1,000 automotive workers back to work, after having been forced out of work as GM and other automakers have idled their factories to slow the spread of coronavirus.
"Ventec, GM and our supply base have been working around the clock for weeks to meet this urgent need," GM said in a statement. "Our commitment to build Ventec’s high-quality critical care ventilator, VOCSN, has never wavered."
The president had previously indicated Friday afternoon that he would invoke the Defense Production Act, as he unleashed a remarkable string of Twitter attacks at GM and its chairman and CEO, Mary Barra.
The president’s diatribe began after the New York Times reported that Trump had backed out of a deal in which the Federal government would buy some 80,000 ventilators for about $1.5 billion.
Federal officials cited concerns that GM would not be able to deliver as many ventilators as it promised. However, even as they worried about having too few ventilators, officials also fretted that the federal government would end up with an excess of ventilators.
Trump also reportedly cited concerns about the deal’s cost, although the price-tag would have amounted to about $18,000 a ventilator — a mere fraction of the $2 trillion relief package that Congress approved this week, or roughly equivalent to 18 F-35 fighter jets.