Trump hasn't ordered any ventilators from GM, despite saying he was using wartime powers to force production

An earlier version of this story misstated Sen. Ted Cruz’s experience with coronavirus. The Texas Republican self-quarantined after interacting with a person who later tested positive.

WASHINGTON – Nearly a week after invoking his powers under a Korean War-era law to compel General Motors to manufacture ventilators for coronavirus, President Donald Trump’s administration has not formally ordered any of the machines, USA TODAY has learned.

As governors warn of severe shortages of ventilators, Trump has been hesitant to use his wartime powers to force companies to ramp up production under the Defense Production Act, arguing that such an order amounts to a takeover of private industry.

But Trump said Friday he would use the act to require General Motors to make ventilators after what he described as a dispute with the company over supply and pricing. Three administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told USA TODAY that the government is still exploring its options and has not yet placed an order under the Defense Production Act for any of the machines.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency "continues to work within its authorities to coordinate with the private sector," an agency spokesperson who declined to be identified said when asked about the lack of an order to GM. Federal agencies are "in the process of reviewing these delegated authorities," the person said.

General Motors declined to answer questions about Trump's use of the DPA but said in a statement it was "moving forward to build as many ventilators as we can as fast as we can."

The White House declined to comment.

The revelation that the administration has not yet ordered ventilators under the Defense Production Act from GM comes as Trump Thursday announced a fresh request to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to use the act for several other companies, including General Electric, Hill-Rom Holdings, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical.

But the latest order provided no more detail on how the government would compel those companies to make ventilators than the order targeted at General Motors. The order also did not clarify how many ventilators it is requesting.

Trump told reporters he signed a new order under the act to help companies "overcome obstacles in the supply chain" to speed up the production of ventilators. He also said he spoke with GM CEO Mary Barra, who reported that the company would be ready to start production "very soon."

"We anticipate issuing more orders under the Defense Production Act in the very near future," the president said. Administration officials have stressed that GM is still working to manufacture the ventilators and Trump has said he views the Defense Production Act more as a threat he can wield to nudge the companies along. But the president and his senior aides have repeatedly talked of using the law – only to later back away.

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On Friday, Trump told reporters that he thought Washington had an agreement with General Motors to manufacture the ventilators but said the company lowered its estimate of how many units it could produce and that "price became a big object." The president then said he would use his powers under the Defense Production Act to force the automaker to start work on the machines.

"I invoked the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators," Trump said. "This invocation of the DPA should demonstrate clearly to all that we will not hesitate to use the full authority of the federal government to combat this crisis."

In fact, Trump actually took a less significant step: He signed a memorandum delegating "available" authorities under the act to Azar. The health department has been working since then with FEMA and other federal agencies to figure out how to execute Trump's wishes.

Peter Navarro, who Trump named as his point person on the Defense Production Act, told Politico on Thursday that the administration was relying on voluntary updates from the company. Navarro did not respond to questions about the act from USA TODAY.

In an op-ed published by USA TODAY on Thursday, Navarro said that the administration is working with 10 different companies on a plan to deliver 5,000 more ventilators in the next 30 days and more than 100,000 by the end of June.

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President Donald Trump salutes as the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort pulls away from the pier at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va., Saturday, March 28, 2020. The ship is departing for New York to assist hospitals responding to the coronavirus outbreak. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is at right.

'Fullest extent necessary'

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he needs 30,000 ventilators "at a minimum" to meet the peak of the outbreak in his state in a couple of weeks. The president, who has questioned that estimate, said Wednesday the government is sitting on a "nice pile of ventilators," but is trying to be judicious in how it distributes its own limited supply.

But Republicans and Democrats alike have pressed Trump to prioritize medical equipment for the government under the Defense Production Act as governors have been increasingly vocal with their concerns. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who entered self-quarantine last month after interacting with someone who tested positive for coronavirus, urged the Trump administration in a March 20 letter to "exercise these delegated powers to the fullest extent necessary."

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Several lawmakers, meanwhile, praised the president for his announcement last week that he was using the law for General Motors. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., described Trump's decision Friday as "an important but seriously belated step."

The Defense Production Act was enacted in 1950 at the start of the Korean War. Though many of its more powerful functions have expired since then, the act allows the government to order products from private companies and ensure that its orders are prioritized above others. It also allows the government to create financial incentives to spur the production of materials needed for national security or in an emergency.

The Trump administration has relied on some of the less controversial provisions of the act already, including a measure that makes it a criminal offense to hoard medical equipment needed to respond to the virus. On Monday, Health and Human Services added respirators, medical gowns, N-95 masks and other equipment to the anti-hoarding list.

Violators can be fined up to $10,000 and face a year in jail.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the coronavirus temporary hospital on March 24, 2020.

'Not a good concept'

Trump has repeatedly cited his invocation of the Defense Production Act to underscore how seriously his administration is taking the virus, which as of Thursday afternoon had killed more than 5,300 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins University. Health officials estimate that between 100,000 and 240,000 could die from the virus.

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But Trump has been reluctant to use the more controversial provisions of the act and has sent mixed messages about his views of the wartime authority. On March 22, he likened the powers to "nationalizing" private businesses – even though the law does not give him the power to do that.

"Call a person over in Venezuela; ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out. Not too well," Trump said during a White House press conference. "The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept."

Left unsaid is that the Trump administration, like others before it, have regularly invoked the law under less trying conditions. Trump signed an order in September, for instance, relying on the act for rare earth metals used by the Department of Defense.

Bloom Energy, a fuel cell generator company, is now refurbishing ventilators on this assembly line shown March 28, 2020, in Sunnyvale, California.

Trump chastised GM Friday, asserting that the company failed to meet its agreements to manufacture ventilators while increasing the proposed price. General Motors, which volunteered to make the units, responded with a statement asserting that the company and its vendors were "working around the clock for weeks to meet this urgent need."

Days later, Trump went back to praising GM. He said Sunday it was doing a “fantastic job” and that "I don't think we have to worry about General Motors now."

It isn't the first time Trump or members of his administration have sent conflicting signals on whether he invoked his wartime powers. During a March 20 press conference, Trump at first suggested he had ordered companies to produce emergency medical equipment under the act, but then said he didn't have to because "they want to do the job."

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, March 30, 2020, in Washington.

Days later, FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor told CNN that his agency planned to "use the DPA for the first time” to obtain about 60,000 test kits to help health care workers confront a widespread shortage of medical supplies amid the unfolding crisis.

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Later the evening, the agency said in a statement that it was "able to procure the test kits from the private market without" using the DPA.

Contributing: Detroit Free Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Trump said he'd force GM to build ventilators. He hasn't