Coronavirus: Trump dismisses Schumer's call for Covid-19 military 'czar'

John T Bennett
Ventilators are in high demand: REUTERS

Donald Trump lashed out Thursday at Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has been urging the president to put a military expert in charge of distributing medical gear to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

The New York Democratic leader has been pushing Mr Trump to use the Defence Production Act more often to compel companies to produce items like ventilators and medical masks as the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths continues to rise. Most recently, Mr Schumer has urged the president to put someone with a military background in charge of distributing items produced under the law.

"We need him to put in charge. A czar of the whole production and distribution of these materials, under the DPA," Mr Schumer told reporters recently. "That should be a military man, the military knows how to get lots of materials in lots of different places quickly, somebody knows ... logistics, who knows command and control."

Mr Trump this week has sounded a more-serious tone about the outbreak, even saying he now expects as many as 100,000 deaths in America, and possibly even more. But he showed he intends to still, as he often says, "fight back" when criticised.

"Somebody please explain to Cryin' Chuck Schumer that we do have a military man in charge of distributing goods, a very talented Admiral, in fact," he tweeted, referring to Navy Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, logistics director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr Trump then went on to attack Mr Schumer's home state, which also is the president's home state. He has been sharply critical of local and state officials who have criticised him, and mum on state leaders who have drawn criticism for their handling of the crisis but have not had harsh words for the president.

"New York has gotten far more than any other State, including hospitals & a hospital ship, but no matter what, always complaining....." the president tweeted.

As he often does, the president cast himself as a victim, contending New York officials need to take federal help. He recently said state officials should be more "appreciative" to him when he deploys federal assistance, also saying he wants them to be more thankful to his team.

"It wouldn't matter if you got ten times what was needed, it would never be good enough. Unlike other states, New York unfortunately got off to a late start. You should have pushed harder. Stop complaining & find out where all of these supplies are going," the president wrote.

He then appeared to try driving a wedge between Mr Schumer and another senior state Democrat, Governor Andrew Cuomo, adding: "Cuomo working hard!"

Mr Trump has only used the Defence Production Act to compel General Motors to build ventilators, but Democrats want him to use it more often.

"We are calling upon the president, as we did in our House bill, to implement the Defense Production Act," Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday, "which is beyond comprehension why he has not done that except that maybe the Chamber of Commerce does not want him to from what I understand."

For his part, the president has said just threatening to use the act to force a company into action gives him "leverage" in talks about private firms switching their production lines to manufacture medical equipment.

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