WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Thursday that he intends to prepare for future pandemics by replenishing the national stockpile and bringing manufacturing of critical supplies and equipment back to the U.S. His comments came the same day a whistleblower told Congress the Trump administration had failed to properly prepare for the current pandemic.
“Wouldn’t that be nice?” Trump said during a visit to a Pennsylvania distributor of medical equipment. “My goal is to produce everything America needs for ourselves and then export to the world, including medicines.”
Trump had complained about supply chains in a television interview that aired before he left Washington for the trip to Owens and Minor Inc. in Allentown.
“These stupid supply chains that are all over the world — we have a supply chain where they’re made in all different parts of the world,” Trump said in the interview with Fox Business Network. "And one little piece of the world goes bad, and the whole thing is messed up.”
“We should have them all in the United States,” he said.
It was Trump's second trip outside Washington in as many weeks as tries to convince the public that it's time for states to begin to open up again, even with the virus still spreading. Trump’s remarks came as federal whistleblower Rick Bright testified before a House panel on Thursday about his repeated efforts to jump-start U.S. production of respirator masks that he says went nowhere.
In Pennsylvania, Trump added to the pressure Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is under from home-state Republicans to roll back stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns after effectively containing the state’s outbreak early on.
“We have to get your governor of Pennsylvania to start opening things up a bit,” Trump said during a speech at the warehouse. Trump claimed some places in the state had been “barely affected.”
The president arrived in Allentown on a campaign-like visit to highlight a U.S. medical equipment distributor that is helping make and ship gowns, gloves and other personal protective gear across the country.
Trump did not wear a face covering as he stepped off Air Force One. During the flight, chief of staff Mark Meadows wore a navy blue face mask embossed with the presidential seal in gold. Officials wiped down the handrails on the staircase before Trump arrived.
Scores of people lined the motorcade route, and the crowd grew thicker — with many of them barefaced — and began to chant “USA!” and “Four more years!” as Trump arrived at Owens and Minor.
After a tour, during which Trump also did not wear a mask, he addressed several dozen employees clad in matching neon yellow company T-shirts, all wearing face masks and sitting with appropriate distance between them.
Trump said he wants to ensure that the next president doesn't inherit an empty stockpile and will build up a three-month supply of items like ventilators and N95 respirator masks that have been in short supply. He said he'd like many of these items to be American-made.
Trump repeatedly has complained about inheriting a depleted stockpile from the Obama administration, glossing over the fact that he'd held office for three years when the coronavirus reached the U.S. and had ample time to replenish equipment and supplies if doing so were a priority.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday was forced to walk back comments he had made earlier in the week about the Obama administration not leaving behind a “game plan” for any future pandemics. The administration had, in fact, left behind a 69-page pandemic playbook.
“Yeah, I was wrong,” McConnell said on Fox News. “They did leave behind a plan, so I clearly made a mistake in that regard.”
As the pandemic took hold in the U.S. and governors desperately sought the federal government's help getting supplies and equipment, Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, sparked outrage by referring to the national stockpile as “our stockpile" and saying its contents were not meant to be shared with the states.
Some states found themselves competing against, and at times losing to, the federal government in the hunt for supplies.
Trump said he wants to bring “critical” manufacturing back to America and announced that he'd signed an executive order to require an obscure federal agency that invests in other countries to begin making similar investments domestically.
“I’m determined that America will be prepared for any of the future outbreaks,” Trump said.
Peter Navarro, the president's trade adviser, said on Fox News that a replenished stockpile would be spread across distribution centers around the country, and not just kept in Federal Emergency Management Agency warehouses, to better prepare for a possible second wave of the coronavirus in the fall.
While health and safety precautions around Trump have increased in recent days, he has yet to be seen in public wearing a mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Americans should wear cloth face coverings in public in situations where social distancing is difficult to prevent unknowingly spreading the virus. Trump is tested daily for the virus; the White House says he is negative.
Trump won Pennsylvania by a mere 44,000 votes four years ago. But in a backlash against him, in 2018, the Allentown area elected a Democrat to represent it in Congress for the first time in two decades.
Allentown is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Scranton, where presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was born. The former vice president's campaign has become increasingly hopeful of returning Pennsylvania to the Democratic column, where it had been from 1992 until 2016.
Pennsylvania is 10th among states in overall infection rate, with some 59,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 4,000 deaths, according to federal statistics.
New infections have been trending down, though, and Wolf has been easing restrictions in lightly affected counties, but not fast enough for some.
Superville reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.