President Donald Trump lashed out Thursday night on Twitter against 3M, the Minnesota-based maker of vital N95 masks used in hospitals around the world during the coronavirus pandemic that has sickened over 1 million people and killed almost 54,000. Trump was apparently upset to learn that 3M has been exporting many of its masks to other countries instead of offering them to officials in U.S. states, something the president had complete control over if he had acted quicker.
“We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks,” Trump tweeted late Thursday, without specifically noting what 3M was doing.
“P Act. all the way,” Trump continued, apparently using P to refer to the Defense Production Act. “Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing - will have a big price to pay!”
Previously, the president failed to invoke the Defense Production Act, which allows the federal government to mandate how U.S. companies produce and distribute essential goods.
The president’s tweet knocking 3M was sent at 8:52 pm ET last night, and was likely a response to something on Fox News, Trump’s favorite TV channel. Tucker Carlson devoted a segment of his show on Thursday to 3M’s export of masks, speaking with Jared Moskowitz from the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Moskowtiz explained that he’s working to procure 3M masks and can’t even buy them on the open market right now.
“Since when do we have a U.S. company that sells masks, and I try to offer them money, and they won’t sell them to me? That I have to go through their authorized distributors, and their only excuse is that they don’t have a perfect system,” Moskowitz said.
Moskowitz says he was told by 3M distributors some people from foreign countries are just showing up with cash and getting masks, pushing U.S. states down the priority list. Rather than blaming free market capitalism or the president, Moskowitz said that this was part of a “globalist” agenda, a popular term on the far-right that’s meant to differentiate between pro-American and supposedly anti-American forces in the country.
Yesterday, President Trump finally invoked the Defense Production Act to compel 3M to make N95 masks for the U.S., though the details are still sketchy about how it will work. U.S. companies, including 3M and others, have ramped up production to roughly 50 million masks per month in the U.S., but that’s far short of the estimated 300 million per month that’s actually needed in the country right now, according to the Wall Street Journal. Some U.S. hospitals have resorted to making their own face shields and masks because the shortage is so critical.
The problem for 3M is that they simply don’t have the capacity to ramp up production that quickly, according to 3M CEO Mike Roman. 3M did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment early Friday, but did post a statement to its website, which we’ve excerpted below.
Note that “respirators” refers to N95 masks, not to be confused with ventilators, which are much more complicated pieces of equipment that keep people alive by forcing air into their lungs.
In the course of our collaboration with the Administration this past weekend, the Administration requested that 3M increase the amount of respirators we currently import from our overseas operations into the U.S. We appreciate the assistance of the Administration to do exactly that. For example, earlier this week, we secured approval from China to export to the U.S. 10 million N95 respirators manufactured by 3M in China.
The Administration also requested that 3M cease exporting respirators that we currently manufacture in the United States to the Canadian and Latin American markets. There are, however, significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators. In addition, ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease. That is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek.
Many countries that produce masks, such as Taiwan, blocked exports when the pandemic first hit in January, ensuring that their own health care workers and citizens had enough. Taiwan’s situation has improved so much, that they’ve resumed exporting masks. According to Fox News, 54 additional countries have enacted export laws for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other vital medial equipment since March 21.
The U.S. currently has identified 245,573 cases of covid-19 and 6,058 deaths, as of Friday morning. And those numbers are only expected to grow in the coming days, weeks, and months. As many as 240,000 Americans could die of covid-19 according to the Trump regime’s estimates, even if social distancing is done perfectly, according to Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The problem, of course, is that the U.S. hasn’t done anything perfectly to combat the health crisis up to this point.
President Trump has maintained a largely hands-off approach to the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., while insisting that he’s doing a tremendous job. Trump has repeatedly complained that state governors aren’t praising him enough and that he bears no responsibility for getting various states the essential medical equipment they need.
“The states should have been building their stockpile,” Trump said on Thursday, talking about the ventilator shortage across the country. “We have almost 10,000 in our stockpile, but the states should be building. We’re a backup, we’re not an ordering clerk, we’re a backup.”
In fact, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner announced at a press conference yesterday that it wasn’t the federal government’s job to supply states with the supplies that they need during this international crisis.
“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” Kushner told reporters on Thursday. “It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.”
What does Kushner mean by “our stockpile” since the federal government is supposed to serve the country, which is made up of states and the people in those states? Your guess is as good as ours. But given the fact that Kushner is disturbingly unqualified to be leading anything right now, let alone the U.S. response to a world-changing health crisis, we can guess Kushner doesn’t know what he means either.
Update, 8:32 am ET: Updated with a statement from 3M about mask exports and the Defense Production Act.