The president’s comments came shortly after the New York Times reported that the White House had abruptly called off a plan to announce this week that General Motors and Ventec Life Systems would be partnering to produce as many as 80,000 ventilators, citing concerns with the deal’s $1 billion price tag.
Trump made no mention of the canceled announcement while chatting with Hannity on Thursday night, but he did stress that the critical machinery is not cheap.
“When you talk about ventilators, that’s sort of like buying a car,” he said. “It’s very expensive. It’s a very intricate piece of equipment. . . . The good ones are very, very expensive.”
Amid the outbreak, officials in New York and other states heavily impacted by the virus have asked the federal government to provide essential medical supplies to hospitals where resources are stretched thin. According to the most recent figures, there are at least 85,000 confirmed cases in the United States. As of early Friday, nearly half of those confirmed cases have occurred in New York.
Aside from test kits and protective gear, ventilators — which help a person with compromised lungs keep breathing — have topped lists of requests from local leaders.
At a news conference earlier this week, Cuomo (D) excoriated the Trump administration for its response to the global pandemic, pointing to the worsening situation in New York as a harbinger of what’s to come for states and cities nationwide that are also battling rising numbers of cases. Chief among Cuomo’s concerns for his state was a shortage of ventilators.
As of Tuesday morning, Cuomo said New York needed 30,000 ventilators, noting that the state had so far acquired about 7,000 units, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency offering to provide 400 more. Later that day, Vice President Pence said the White House would be sending an additional 4,000 ventilators as part of an effort to “surge resources” to New York.
During his call with Hannity on Thursday, the president put the onus on local leaders to shoulder the brunt of the response in their respective states, emphasizing the federal government’s role as “a second line of attack.”
Trump went on to single out Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, accusing the two Democrats of not doing enough to address the health crisis. Both Inslee and Whitmer have called on Trump to provide more resources to their states.
“He shouldn’t be relying on the federal government. He’s always complaining,” Trump said of Inslee.
The president then turned to Whitmer, whose name he did not appear to know.
“And your governor of Michigan, she’s not stepping up,” he said. “I don’t know if she knows what’s going on. All she does is sit there and blame the federal government.”
But although Trump insisted that he is “getting along” with Cuomo and a majority of the other governors, he continued to challenge their requests for help.
“I think that a lot of things are being said that are more — I don’t think that certain things will materialize,” he said. “A lot of equipment’s being asked for that I don’t think they’ll need."
On social media, lawmakers and critics alike were baffled by Trump’s apparent questioning of the need for the large number of ventilators to help support those fighting coronavirus.
Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan, responded to Trump not naming her in his critique.
“I’ve asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it,” she said on Twitter. “No more political attacks, just [personal protective equipment], ventilators, N95 masks, test kits.” She added, “You said you stand with Michigan — prove it.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) urged the president not to minimize the shortage of ventilators for patients and called on him to use the Defense Production Act.
“For every ventilator we are short, a patient dies,” tweeted the congressman. “You downplayed the risk of #COVID19 & now U.S. has most cases in the world. Don’t downplay risks again & repeat the same mistake.”
Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell noted how hours before Trump said that more ventilators weren’t necessary, the president told reporters that the Obama administration was to blame for the nation not having the appropriate supplies to deal with a pandemic. In the daily coronavirus briefing, Trump said that his administration inherited “an empty shelf.”
“These excuses for the inexcusable are somewhat in tension,” Rampell tweeted.
Some critics, like Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at the investment advisory firm Silvercrest Asset Management, sarcastically noted they could only hope for the president to be right.
“I mean, if we hand out too many ventilators, people might prefer it to breathing on their own,” said Chovanec, who previously worked for GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.
But many pleaded for the president to “believe hospitals” and offer them the equipment needed to treat coronavirus patients.
“If they say ventilators are needed, it’s because they are singularly devoted to caring for people and saving lives,” tweeted Mindy Finn, a former Republican campaigner. “Too many ventilators is not a real problem."
Correction: An earlier version of this article included Chovanec’s sentiments without clearly indicating they were sarcastic.