CORONAVIRUS

Trump 'Playing Politics' With Lives As FEMA Grabs Ventilators, Lawmaker Charges

The president manipulated Colorado's order of coronavirus equipment to help embattled GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette says.

President Donald Trump is “playing politics” with lives with his manipulation of Colorado’s ventilator request to help embattled GOP Sen. Cory Gardner’s reelection, a Democratic lawmaker charges.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency hijacked 500 ventilators ordered by the state for COVID-19 patients, but Trump restored 100 as a special favor to Gardner in a move that will help the vulnerable lawmaker’s reelection, complained Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).

“President Trump says we will get 100 as a courtesy to Senator Gardner. That means, because the president is playing politics with public health, we’re still 400 ventilators short from what we should have received,” DeGette said in a statement Wednesday. Trump’s “mismanagement of this crisis is costing lives and livelihoods.”

Trump has repeatedly told states to get their own supplies to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. But when they do, the federal government often cancels their orders or outbids them so FEMA can add them to the national stockpile to dole out as Trump administration officials please. That was the case after Colorado contracted to purchase 500 ventilators.

Trump tweeted about giving 100 ventilators to Colorado with a valuable shoutout to Gardner. The senator in turn lavished gratitude on the president and took credit for his answered appeal in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday night.

“I think this thing that happened with Sen. Gardner and President Trump is very disturbing,” DeGette said on CNN. “What is the process here?” 

Some governors have complained that the Trump administration is playing favorites, giving more supplies to states headed by GOP governors than those led by Democrats.

Trump said earlier this month that he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the administration’s coronavirus task force, not to return the phone calls of governors who “aren’t appreciative.” The ones he named are Democrats.

Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis told Don Lemon on CNN last week after FEMA blocked the state’s ventilator order that the Trump administration has to “either be in or out,” on helping states acquire medical supplies.

“Either you’re buying them and you’re providing them to states and you’re letting us know what we’re going to get and when we’re going to get them,” Polis said. “Or you stay out, and let us buy them.”

He added: “But this middle ground where they’re buying stuff out from under us ... that’s really challenging to manage our hospital surge and [the] safety of our health care workers.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — a Democrat who Trump has frequently targeted because of what he calls her “complaints” — revealed last month that vendors with whom her state had contracted for desperately needed medical equipment were told “not to send stuff,” on orders from the Trump administration. Other states were facing similar problems, she said.

While Michigan has received only a fraction of its requests from the national stockpile, Florida, led by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, last month received 100% of two major requests within three days, The Washington Post reported.

Several hospitals in seven states surveyed by the Los Angeles Times complained that FEMA officials were showing up unannounced and seizing their supplies, leaving them desperately short and uncertain where to turn for more equipment.

PeaceHealth, a 10-hospital system in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, had a shipment of testing supplies confiscated. “It’s incredibly frustrating,” CEO Richard DeCarlo told the Times.

“We had put wheels in motion with testing and protective equipment to allow us to secure and protect our staff and our patients,” DeCarlo said. “When testing went off the table, we had to come up with a whole new plan.”

FEMA officials have said the intention is to distribute supplies where they’re most needed.

A report this week revealed shortcomings. For example, Vermont and Texas each received “final” federal shipments of 120,900 N95 masks. Vermont has a population of 623,989 people, while Texas has a population of 28.9 million. That means Vermont received about 193 N95 masks per 1,000 people, while Texas received fewer than five N95 masks per 1,000 people.

And while 3.5 billion N95 masks were needed to respond to the pandemic, only 0.33% of that number was distributed to states.

The nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington last month filed a Freedom of Information Act request for data revealing federal supply responses to requests from states. 

“If Trump is pressuring FEMA to play favorites and delay the delivery of essential supplies to states that are critical of his response to the pandemic, then the public deserves to know how far the president is willing to go, by potentially putting their lives on the line for self-serving political purposes,” the group said in a statement.

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