President Donald Trump, in a series of tweets Friday morning, appeared to signal that he would invoke the Defense Production Act to force General Motors and Ford to mass-produce ventilators after deals with the automotive companies went sour.
In the first tweet, Trump slammed GM for allegedly misleading the federal government about tens of thousands of ventilators they previously said they would produce in short order.
"Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B. 'Invoke 'P,'" the president tweeted in reference to the company's CEO Mary Barra. In a later tweet (shown below), Trump would clarify that "Invoke 'P' means Defense Production Act!"
The president also demanded that GM "START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!" before adding that Ford, too, should "GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!"
What's the background?
On Thursday, news broke that the White House was second-guessing a deal with GM and Ventec Life Systems to produce up to 80,000 ventilators after the companies announced a $1 billion price tag. The White House opted to cancel a scheduled announcement about the deal saying that the Federal Emergency Management Agency requested additional time to assess the cost.
Trump had previously claimed that he was in talks with GM and Ford about manufacturing ventilators amid the coronavirus outbreak, which exposed a shortage in the critical respiratory treatment device.
Trump told reporters during a press briefing that the two companies, among others, were making ventilators "right now." At the time, fact-checkers from the Associated Press called those claims false.
Trump has been hesitant to use the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law that allows the federal government to direct industrial production of critical materials, preferring to use the power as leverage in negotiations.
It is unclear, pertaining to the president's Friday tweets, whether he is still using the DPA as leverage or whether he plans to officially invoke it to force GM, Ford, and possibly others, to produce ventilators.
Adding to the confusion, the president also appeared to downplay the need for tens of thousand of ventilators during a telephone interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday.
"I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators," Trump said. "You know, you go into major hospitals, sometimes they'll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they're saying, 'Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'"
His comments came in response to a request by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for 30,000 ventilators to handle the state's rising number of coronavirus cases.