President Trump's order to keep meatpacking plants open has Democrats scratching their heads while Trump is also refusing to demand beefed-up supply chains to provide the equipment needed to treat and track the coronavirus.
Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to classify meat packers as critical infrastructure during the Covid-19 outbreak after major plants had to close because workers were getting sick or staying home to avoid becoming ill.
The packing industry hailed the move, but it prompted Democrats to wonder why Trump was not taking a stronger hand in demanding and coordinating the production of life-saving medical gear used to protect and treat people.
"Here is the most amazing and confounding thing -- President Trump yesterday announced he's using DPA for meatpacking plants, but still hasn't invoked the DPA for testing. Is that incredible?" Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a teleconference Wednesday to announce legislation to force the administration to use the DPA powers.
The Democrats, including Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) are proposing a bill that would mandate Trump use the DPA to federalize the supply chains needed to produce personal protective equipments, testing materials and anything else vital to the coronavirus response.
Trump has said he's ordered manufacturers to make ventilators and masks, but it's unclear whether the orders had impact or if companies such as GM were going to make them anyway. Trump has resisted calls to use the authority more broadly, apparently acceding to concerns from business leaders.
But Democrats say it's well past time for Trump to be more aggressive. "We are not going to be able to open our food facilities and so many other things unless we have testing," Schumer said. "What is the reason he's willing to use the DPA for meatpacking plants, but not for testing? There is no good answer to that. Keeping these plants, the meatpacking plants and others, open requires testing."
"It is stunning that the president is not using the power that has been granted to him to save lives," said Murphy, one of the lead sponsors of the new legislation. "It is perplexing as to why he has been so willing to talk tough, but then not willing to use the the authorities that have been given to him."
Murphy theorized that business groups are pushing the president to resist using DPA because it might make their products less profitable.
"When scarcity is the rule, prices go up," Murphy said. "Industries can make a lot of money when scarcity is prevalent. So we worry that this president is choosing profits over the health and safety of our constituents."
The legislation, called the "Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act," would require the defense secretary to appoint a civilian executive officer to invoke the DPA and oversee the logistics of equipment production and delivery. The executive would have to make regular national assessments of critical equipment supplies and needs; issue regular public reports; draft a Covid–19 testing plan that covers both viral and antibody testing, and create a plan to rapidly scale up production of a vaccine when one becomes available.
Trump "has fiddled for long enough, and Congress needs to step in and create an infrastructure through which the Defense Production Act can be utilized," said Murphy. "There is no reason that we cannot make more of the components for these testing machines in the United States other than the president has chosen to stand down and not use the capabilities given to him by statute."