WHY Won't Trump Use the DPA?

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Greg Sargent has this column up in today’s WaPo: The big question looming over Trump’s coronavirus disaster

Why is it falling to Democrats to beg, cajole and try to force President Trump into taking numerous specific steps he should be taking himself, right now, to avert untold numbers of preventable American deaths?

(It’s also some Republicans, let’s be clear, including Ted Cruz and Liz Cheney.) In particular:

Trump has invoked this 1950 wartime production measure [the Defense Protection Act] but has not deployed it. Numerous states and health officials are pleading with him to do so, warning of severe equipment shortages crippling their own responses.

Well, one answer might be from this article in the NYT on March 22: Trump Bets Business Will Answer Call to Fight Virus, but Strategy Bewilders Firms

Yet, in declining to actually make use of the Korean War-era production act that he invoked last week, Mr. Trump is also avoiding taking personal responsibility for how fast the acute shortages of personal protective gear and lifesaving equipment are addressed. [emphasis added]

Bingo!

There are lots of CTs saying he’s screwing the blue states, or that he’s looking for some way to make money off of supply shortages, or that he’s heeding the pleas from the business execs who don’t want to be ordered by the feds (the main point of the NYT story). But the main point really is that Trump doesn’t want to make a decision he can’t take back or run away from or deny he ever made it. (I clipped a quote from a WaPo story the other day of an official describing Trump in pretty much those words, but can’t find it at the moment.)

But the reason for the DPA is not just to force the manufacture of urgently needed equipment and supplies; it’s to coordinate their distribution. That is what NY Gov. Cuomo was trying to explain in his daily briefing yesterday — in which he pointedly declared he would take “personal responsibility” for seeing that ventilators would be distributed around the country once NY no longer needed so many. That is supposed to be the federal government’s job; it is the only entity with the authority, the resources, and the infrastructure in place to get it done.



Which brings up another thought: Trump has spent much of the past 3 years dismantling that infrastructure. It could well be that he’s afraid that if he actually enforces the DPA, the country will find out he’s taken the ability to carry out that order away  from the government. He’s already trying to deflect and deny that he shut down our pandemic early warning and preparedness programs, so he has to be extra-sensitive to any other possible openings that will reveal his incompetence.

But without the federal government directing ordering, production, and shipping, we just have chaos and competition:

Cuomo added that when states are forced to compete against each other in the absence of the federal government taking control, they end up bidding up prices, to the point that masks that used to cost $0.85 are now $7 apiece. thehill.com/…

And no, the DPA does not nationalize companies — Cuomo had to explain that, as well — so comparisons to Venezuela by some conservatives are also off the mark.

Late note: As I was writing this, reports started showing up that Cuomo is now praising Trump for his help:

“The president and his team I think are using the DPA well because it’s basically a leverage tool when you are dealing with private companies, right?” he said before adding that the “ramp-up time” it takes to “get these things up and running” is an “extraordinarily difficult task.”

“And it’s something that our team is working on with the White House team and I want to thank the president for his cooperation and his team for their cooperation,” said Cuomo. “We’re getting very creative. We’re talking to countries around the world as well as new companies that could do production.” dailycaller.com/…

Granted, this is from the Daily Caller (the Washington Examiner has a similar story), and so should be taken with enough to startle a cardiologist, but Cuomo is a savvy enough politician to know how to butter Trump enough to get what he needs. (One thing Cuomo will not — and cannot) do is call off the NY AG’s investigations of Trump, of course.) And even here, Cuomo didn’t say Trump was finally going to use the DPA.

Each day brings us more deaths to lay at the feet of His Irresponsible Incompetence.