Tapper Grills FEMA Chief on Mask Shortage: ‘Doesn't Fill People With Confidence’

Justin Baragona

CNN anchor Jake Tapper repeatedly confronted FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor on Sunday morning over the shortages of masks and other safety gear hospitals across the nation are facing amid the coronavirus crisis, explicitly noting that Gaynor’s answers don’t elicit confidence.

Tapper kicked off his interview with Gaynor on CNN's State of the Union by pressing for specifics, asking the FEMA chief how many masks the federal government has at this moment and when they will arrive at local hospitals.

Gaynor insisted that they’ve been shipping from national stockpiles for weeks, but that the demand on these items was global. He added that they’re also looking for commercial sources and donations to help fill the need.

“It’s not just about the federal government buying it. It’s also about those hospitals and other facilities. If you find it on the market, go ahead and buy it,” Gaynor said. “FEMA will reimburse you for it. This is a shared responsibility.”

Tapper wondered aloud, “Do you have any specific numbers on how many masks the federal government has been able to acquire and how many have gone out the door to hospitals?” This prompted the FEMA administrator to merely reply that it is a “dynamic and fluid operation.”

Tapper, growing increasingly exasperated, pushed back: “Do you have even a rough number?”

“I can’t give you a rough number,” Gaynor admitted. “I can tell you that it’s happening every day. My mission is operational coordination of all these things and that’s my focus. Whether it’s supplies, vents, you name it, we’re finding it, identifying it, and shipping it to those who have requested it.”

The CNN anchor, meanwhile, noted that the “inability of the federal government to give a number in terms of masks alarms people” and makes them believe that masks aren’t being shipped.

“I’m not saying that’s the case, but without a number, that doesn’t fill people with confidence,” Tapper added.

He also went on to play clips of governors sounding the alarm that their hospitals don’t have enough equipment to handle the surge of coronavirus patients, asking Gaynor if he could let them know when they’d receive the needed supplies. Gaynor once again refused to give a definitive answer, instead saying they were focused on “priorities” and “hotspots” such as New York City and California.

After Gaynor demurred when asked how many masks, tests, and ventilators governors have requested from FEMA, Tapper gave voice to the frustration many are feeling.

“Again, nobody’s doubting the sincerity of your effort. But the lack of numbers is alarming because it makes people think maybe we don’t have a full understanding of the problem.”

Tapper went on to note that even though President Donald Trump has already invoked the Defense Production Act, it doesn't appear that he has actually ordered any companies to manufacture needed supplies.

“Has the president, as of now, Sunday morning, ordered any companies to make more of any of these critical supplies?” Tapper asked.

“No, and we haven’t yet,” Gaynor replied. “It really is leverage, I think, to demonstrate that we can use it. The president can use it any time... It’s happening without using that lever.”


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