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Trump plans to use the Defense Production Act to order meat processing plants to stay open amid the coronavirus pandemic. Here are all the unusual ways he has used the powers of a 'wartime president' so far.

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  • Battling the coronavirus pandemic will be like a "war," according to leaders ranging from US President Donald Trump to French President Emmanuel Macron to billionaire Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates.
  • As the spread of the virus plunges the global economy into recession, governments worldwide are pledging trillions to mitigate the fallout — and the US is no exception. But they'll need something more like a "wartime economy" to fight the pandemic.
  • During World War II, the US government mobilized major industry for all the various needs of the war effort, with Ford making tanks, for example.
  • Trump first invoked the Defense Production Act on March 27, more than a week after first saying he would. He has used it sparingly since — and not always for the things critics wish he would.
  • The administration has said the act will be used to ramp up coronavirus testing and also keep meat processing plants open amid the pandemic, but has yet to sign orders into effect.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has killed more than 179,000 people and infected over 2.5 million people worldwide.

As the pandemic has worsened, more and more political leaders have been using "wartime" language, at first French President Emmanuel Macron and leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and later US President Donald Trump, who called himself a "wartime president."

But what is a "wartime economy?" And what would that look like for fighting a virus outbreak instead of a military conflict, in the United States of 2020? 

Previously, it meant the White House invoking wartime powers that would task private industries with providing resources to help with the war effort, like Ford fulfilling government orders for 300,000 vehicles during World War II.

Trump has that same power now, and finally invoked it on Friday, March 27. He had first said he would invoke the law on March 18 and then said he wanted to use it as "leverage" to get private industry to mobilize without an order.

He used the Defense Production Act to demand that General Motors ramp up production of ventilators for strained hospitals. And then again, on April 2, he used it to order six manufacturers to supply parts for ventilator production, and one company to produce N95 masks.

The administration has said the act will be used to ramp up coronavirus testing and also keep meat processing plants open amid the pandemic, but has yet to sign orders into effect.

Separately, the first-ever Defense Production Act prosecution is under way in New York, where the federal government has charged a Long Island man with hoarding and price gouging sorely needed personal protective equipment, including masks.

Keep reading for a look at how the American "wartime economy" of yesteryear is taking hold in Trump's presidency.

Many have touted the arrival of a "wartime economy" amid the coronavirus outbreak, including the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and billionaire Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates.

In the March 15 Democratic presidential debate in Washington DC, former Vice President Joe Biden, then the leading candidate and now the presumptive nominee, referred to the coronavirus outbreak as a "national emergency" and said "we're at war with the virus." 

The statement started to echo around the world. The next night, French President Emmanuel Macron said "we are at war" six separate times in a nationally televised speech.

In the same speech, Macron announced that the French state would provide child care for health workers and repurpose military hospitals for civilian use, and he called on retired medical professionals and medical students to help. He also pledged €300 billion ($320 billion) to bolster the French economy, saying "no firm will go bankrupt."

A few days after Macron's speech, US President Donald Trump adopted the same description, referring to himself as a "wartime president" on March 18.

"World War II was the defining moment of our parents' generation," Bill Gates wrote in an April 23 blog post. "In a similar way, the COVID-19 pandemic — the first modern pandemic — will define this era."'

"The coronavirus pandemic pits all of humanity against the virus," Gates continued. "This is like a world war, except in this case, we're all on the same side."



During World War II, governments created economic support packages and asked private industries to support the war effort.

During World War II, the White House set the tone for the whole economy. It established what resources needed to be produced and then tasked private companies with providing them.

This resulted in companies like Ford fulfilling government orders for 300,000 vehicles, including tanks, for use during the war.

On March 18, Trump announced that the US would invoke a 1950s-era law called the Defense Production Act to, in a worst-case scenario, ramp up production of necessary medical equipment such as ventilators.

The Defense Production Act was initially passed during the Korean War, and authorizes the president to take actions to "force private industry to give priority to defense and homeland security contracts" and to "ensure the availability of the nation's industrial resources to meet the national security needs of the United States," according to the Congressional Research Service.

 



The Ray-Ban Aviator, one of the most recognizable pair of sunglasses in the world, has a similar creation story.

Putting the economy on a wartime footing can create long-lasting economic features. For instance, the original Jeep went into production in 1941 for military usage. It became the most commonly used four-wheeler by the US army during World War II, and went on to become a staple on American roads.

In the late 1930s, the US Army Air Corps Lieutenant General asked for a pair of sunglasses that would reduce nausea and headaches for pilots flying at high altitudes. That was the birth of the Ray-Ban Aviator, which became Joe Biden's favorite sunglasses model decades later.  

A few decades earlier, "trench watches" came back with American GIs from World War I, a fashion that would become the now-ubiquitous personal wristwatch.



The US has slowly adopted the strategy of asking private industry for specific support — a major issue with today's pandemic is the need for medical equipment.

In a press conference on March 20, Trump announced the Defense Production Act was in "high gear," but it was unclear at that time whether or not he had ordered private industry to scale up production.

"We are literally being besieged in a beautiful way by companies that want to do the work and help our country," he said at the time. "We have not had a problem with that at all."

Over the course of the following week, it would become increasingly unclear whether or not Trump was exercising that power. 

On March 24, Trump tweeted that there are "millions of masks" coming to the US, and wrote that "The Defense Production Act is in full force" but he has not had to use it because "no one has said NO!"



Political leaders like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Trump to utilize the Defense Production Act in late March, rather than just threatening to use it.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo slammed Trump for calling himself a "wartime president" without helping the state get desperately needed ventilators — "President said it's a war. It is a war. Well then act like it's a war," Cuomo said on March 24.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a March 19 statement that "The President must immediately use the powers of the Defense Production Act to mass produce and coordinate distribution of these critical supplies, before the need worsens and the shortages become even more dire." 



Trump at first said he was reluctant to use the Defense Production Act, falsely asserting that it would amount to nationalizing private industry.

"We're a country not based on nationalizing our business," Trump said at a March 22 press briefing. "Call a person over in Venezuela; ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out. Not too well," he continued. "The concept of nationalizing our businesses is not a good concept."

The law does not nationalize businesses. In fact, The New York Times reported that the law has been used hundreds of thousands of times in recent years by the US military to ensure that private companies prioritize military contracts.

Also on March 22, Trump acknowledged that he was not using the Defense Production Act to directly order companies to manufacture ventilators. Trump said he was using the law as leverage instead. The White House would reiterate multiple times that the act was being used as leverage.



As demand for ventilators increased, Trump confused many with his statements on Twitter.

In mid-March, US hospitals had roughly 160,000 ventilators, the medical equipment necessary to treat the worst coronavirus cases, according to The New York Times. On March 18, when President Trump called himself a "wartime president," Vice President Mike Pence said the US had a stockpile of more than 10,000 ventilators. That's a small number compared to the millions of possible coronavirus infections

General Motors and Ford engaged in talks with the Trump administration to begin building ventilators starting in mid-March. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, pledged on Twitter to produce ventilators in case of a shortage.

On March 22, the same day as his "leverage" remarks at a press conference, Trump wrote on Twitter that Ford, General Motors, and Tesla had all been given the green light to "make ventilators and other metal products" on Twitter, but did not specify whether he was calling on those companies to do so. "Go for it auto execs, lets see how good you are?" he added.

 



On March 27, Trump finally invoked the Defense Production Act, requesting that General Motors immediately aid with ventilator production.

On March 27, Trump took to Twitter, again on the subject of General Motors and ventilators. "They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators 'very quickly.' Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar." Trump wrote, followed by "Invoke 'P.'" In a later Tweet, Trump clarified that by "P" he was referring to the Defense Production Act. 

Trump also tweeted direct criticisms of GM CEO Mary Barra, saying, "always a mess with Mary B." He went on to suggest that GM produce ventilators at its "stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant." Trump had previously tweeted his displeasure about GM's decision to close its Lordstown plant, given its political importance in a swing state. 

 

He then tweeted: "General Motors MUST immediately ... START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!" It was still unclear at that point whether he was invoking the Defense Production Act to direct General Motors to do so. 

The White House later confirmed that Trump had invoked the act to require General Motors produce ventilators. Also on March 27, Reuters reported, Trump said the US would produce 100,000 ventilators in 100 days and named his aide Peter Navarro as coordinator of the Defense Production Act; he didn't clarify whether GM would make these 100,000 ventilators.

"Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course," read a statement from the White House. "GM was wasting time. Today's action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives."



The following week, on April 2, Trump used the Defense Production Act to order 6 more companies to aid with pandemic relief efforts.

On April 2, FEMA said in a briefing document that only 3,200 of the 100,000 ventilators it was sourcing would be ready in time for the likely mid-April peak of the pandemic. The same day, USA Today reported that the White House had not yet actually placed an order with GM for any ventilators, citing three administration officials.

Despite the confusion, the White House invoked the Defense Production Act again on April 2, releasing a memo in which Trump directed six companies — General Electric, Hill-Rom, Medtronic, Resmed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical — to help facilitate the supply materials needed for ventilator production.



Also on April 2, Trump used the Defense Production Act to order 3M to ramp up N95 mask production.

On April 2, the White House issued a separate order invoking the Defense Production Act to demand aid from 3M, a company that produces much-needed N95 masks.

"Hopefully they'll be able to do what they are supposed to do," Trump said in a briefing that day. He did not specify what that meant, or what, exactly, the directive would produce.

Later, he took to Twitter to criticize 3M.

"We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks," Trump wrote. "'P Act' all the way ... will have a big price to pay!"

His message is thought to fault 3M for their global production — not enough masks are making it back to the US, according to Navarro. The Financial Times reported that 3M had resisted White House demands the same week to send about 10 million N95 masks to the US from Singapore, where they were being produced for Asian markets, citing a person with direct knowledge of the matter. 

If true, Trump's use of the wartime act against both GM and 3M followed a period of reported or explicit conflict between those companies and the White House, and Trump chose to use the act to force them to follow White House orders while exempting their corporate rivals.



Other statements made the same day — by Jared Kushner — further muddied the picture.

White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner added to the confusion around the administration's handling of medical equipment. In a press briefing, also on April 2, he said state officials shouldn't count on using "our" stockpile of medical equipment, drawing a line between equipment stockpiled by the federal government and by each state.

Many, including CNN's Daniel Dale, were quick to point out that the federal website that details the use of the national stockpile directly negated Kushner's comment. On April 2, it read:

"Strategic National Stockpile is the nation's largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out. When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency."

But by April 3, the website was altered — now reflecting Kushner's claim.  It reads:

"The Strategic National Stockpile's role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Many states have products stockpiled, as well. The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available."



On April 11, the White House greenlit the production of additional N95 masks under the Defense Production Act, but minimal additional information was provided.

In an April 11 statement, the Department of Defense said the White House had invoked the Defense Production Act to produce more than 39 million N95 masks over 90 days. The project will cost $133 million. 

The statement did not elaborate on which companies would be working to manufacture the masks.



Separately, Trump said the US had become the "king of ventilators" on April 19.

As doctors around the world note that invasive ventilators are not necessarily a magic fix for the coronavirus pandemic, Trump wrote that the US is "now the 'King of Ventilators'" on Twitter on April 19. "Other countries are calling asking for help-we will!"

On April 24, Trump announced on Twitter that the US will send ventilators to Ecuador and Indonesia. Hist statement on Twitter also mentioned that "we have recently manufactured many" ventilators.

Meanwhile, leaders have continued to critique the federal response. In New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's daily press briefing on April 24, he suggested that the US federal government had in general acted too late.



Trump has said he would invoke the Defense Production Act for other necessities like coronavirus testing — but later added that the deal wasn't done yet.

On April 19, Trump said the Defense Production Act will be used to increase production of coronavirus testing swabs in a press briefing. At the time, he said the US will be getting swabs "very easily."

The deal is not finalized. Even in his press conference, Trump said, "We have one company that we're forced to use it with and probably by tomorrow we won't be," appearing to indicate that Trump still preferred to threaten to invoke the Defense Production Act as a sort of leverage.

Governors including New York's Cuomo and Maryland's Larry Hogan have expressed a need for more testing supplies, and Trump has responded, "The governor should just get it done."



On April 24, in the first prosecution of its kind, a New York man was charged with price gouging under the Defense Production Act.

Amardeep Singh, a Long Island businessman, is facing federal charges for hoarding masks and gowns sorely needed by hospitals.

According to Newsweek, Singh acquired 1.6 tons of face masks, 2.2 tons of surgical gowns, 1.8 tons of hand sanitizer, and thousands of thermometers. Prosecutors allege he then sold the items at a significant markup.

Singh's alleged price gouging strategy resulted in the first-ever Defense Production Act prosecution. If convicted on the charges, Singh faces up to a $10,000 fine and up to one year in federal prison.



A Trump administration official said he plans to use the Defense Production Act to mandate meat processing plants — specifically Tyson — to remain open throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

America is barreling toward meat shortages as slaughterhouses shut down and thousands of workers at meat plants across the country test positive for COVID-19.

On April 27, a Trump administration official told Reuters that Trump plans to use the Defense Production Act to ensure meat processing plants stay open during the pandemic. Trump has signaled his plans to sign the order specifically to address the "road block" of Tyson's liability during the pandemic, Bloomberg reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.

The official said the order would also apply to other meat processing companies. The order is not yet signed. 

In the face of positive coronavirus cases at meat processing plants, Smithfield Foods CEO Kenneth Sullivan said earlier this month that "the right thing for Americans is that we operate these plants."





* This article was originally published herePress Release Distribution

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