Sen. Elizabeth Warren is demanding to know why the Trump administration earlier this month seized at least two shipments of badly-needed medical supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic headed for her state of Massachusetts and accused the federal government of continually outbidding states as officials try to procure life-saving equipment.
After President Donald Trump on March 19 scolded governors for expecting the federal government to take responsibility for the spread of the coronavirus and ensure that states have ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare providers—saying states should "try getting it" themselves—the administration outbid Massachusetts officials and kept the supplies out of the state's reach, Warren said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Trump told states they were on their own to purchase medical equipment, so that’s what MA tried to do. But then the federal government outbid MA at least 3 times – and reports show two of our orders were seized by federal authorities. This is unacceptable. https://t.co/QlyFUpkdpf
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 31, 2020
In a letter (pdf) sent Monday to FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor, Warren called the government's interdiction into her state's efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus—officially known as COVID-19—"a new and inexplicable obstacle."
Warren described a recent phone call Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker had with Trump, in which the governor said he had heeded the president's call to obtain ventilators and PPE directly from manufacturers instead of relying on the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), only to be outbid by the federal government.
"Massachusetts state officials are continuing to face federal impediments as they scramble to find essential medical equipment to respond to a public health emergency. This is unacceptable."
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
"If states are doing what the feds want and trying to create their own supply chain, then people should be responsive," Baker told Trump."I've got a feeling that if somebody has a chance to sell to you or to me, I'm going to lose everyone of those."
According to Business Insider, the president laughed at Baker's concern, agreeing that the federal government's ability to pay more for supplies was "probably why" they didn't go to Massachusetts.
"Massachusetts state officials are continuing to face federal impediments as they scramble to find essential medical equipment to respond to a public health emergency," Warren wrote to Gaynor. "This is unacceptable."
Trump's insistence that states request supplies from manufacturers and his reluctance to invoke the Defense Production Act to order the production of enough equipment to serve the country has also reportedly led to states bidding against one another for supplies.
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"It's like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator...That's literally what we're doing," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.
Warren also demanded to know why the federal government this month stopped at least two deliveries of critical supplies while they were en route to Massachusetts, as thousands of residents contracted the virus and hospitals in the state faced equipment shortages.
Two separate orders of N95 respirators and ventilators were "seized and impounded by the federal government," Warren wrote.
"They take what we order," she added, quoting state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.
After ordering 750,000 each of N95 respirators, surgical masks, pairs of gloves, surgical gowns, and other supplies, Warren wrote, Massachusetts "has received only a fraction of its SNS request." The state government has been informed it will now be subject to FEMA cost-sharing requirements for any other orders it places, she added.
On Sunday, Warren slammed Trump's claim that state officials have been "happy" with the amount of critical supplies they need to keep healthcare workers safe and treat coronavirus patients.
"No, President Trump, Massachusetts is not happy," Warren wrote on Twitter. "Health workers' lives are at risk and people are dying."
No, President Trump, Massachusetts is not happy. The Commonwealth has received a fraction of its requested supplies. Your administration has outbid or seized our direct purchases. Health workers’ lives are at risk and people are dying. pic.twitter.com/atEF0tMdL0
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 30, 2020
The president's refusal to make sure Massachusetts and other states obtain the medical supplies they need as the death toll from the coronavirus climbs, Warren said, is "a dereliction of responsibility."