Why President Trump Hasn't Used The Defense Production Act The White House says it has not needed to use its authority under the Defense Production Act because the private sector has been cooperating with the administration on its own.
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Trump Resists Using Wartime Law To Get, Distribute Coronavirus Supplies

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Trump Resists Using Wartime Law To Get, Distribute Coronavirus Supplies

Trump Resists Using Wartime Law To Get, Distribute Coronavirus Supplies

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In this crisis, compared to a war, the president faces pressure to use the Defense Production Act. It lets him command industry to produce vital supplies. So how, if at all, is he using it? NPR's Ayesha Rascoe reports.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: New York has been hit hard by the coronavirus, and Governor Andrew Cuomo says he needs help now.

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ANDREW CUOMO: I need 30,000 ventilators. You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators? What are we going to do for 400 - with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000 ventilators?

RASCOE: Vice President Pence says thousands of ventilators are headed to New York this week, but Cuomo wants the federal government to take more drastic action.

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CUOMO: Only the federal government has that power, and not to exercise that power is inexplicable to me.

RASCOE: The power that he's talking about is the Defense Production Act. The law gives the executive branch broad authority to direct production and distribution of materials deemed essential to national defense. In this case, President Trump declared last week that ventilators and protective equipment, like face masks, fit that criteria.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We'll be invoking the Defense Production Act just in case we need it.

RASCOE: The law allows the government to jump to the front of the line to buy up goods and ship them where needed. Cuomo and others say Trump opened the toolbox; now it's time to use the tools. But Trump has given conflicting answers on his use of the law. Last Friday, Trump told reporters he was using the law to make companies take action.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You haven't actually directed any companies to start making more ventilators or masks, right?

TRUMP: I have. I have, yes. I have.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How many...

TRUMP: A lot.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: ...Companies? We're trying to see if you are requiring them.

TRUMP: And they're making a lot of ventilators, and they're making a lot of masks.

RASCOE: The administration later said the president was not using the law to push production of ventilators. Instead, on Sunday, Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro said the law is working as leverage.

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PETER NAVARRO: What we've seen with this outpouring of volunteers from private enterprise, we're getting what we need without putting the heavy hand of government down.

RASCOE: At that same briefing, Trump compared the law to a government takeover of companies.

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TRUMP: 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 businesses work out - not too well. The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept.

RASCOE: Peter Shulman is a history professor at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. He's studied the act and says comparisons to socialism don't really add up.

PETER SHULMAN: The law itself grew out of the preservation of a market economy. It grew out of the preservation of a democratic form of government.

RASCOE: While some private companies are stepping up to offer their services, like General Motors, Shulman says private industry acting on its own won't be able to get the goods to where they're needed most.

SHULMAN: This is the kind of crisis that has to be met with centralized leadership, only for the duration of the crisis, but absent that, it's just a recipe for chaos.

RASCOE: The White House says it's working with private companies to deliver supplies. The question for New York is, what's on the way?

Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News.

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