A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Monday calling for him to “lead a strong, coordinated federal effort to support first responders” by addressing a national shortage of personal protective equipment as the US fights the coronavirus crisis.
The senators wrote, “Specifically, this requires utilizing your authorities under the Defense Production Act to strengthen domestic manufacturing capacity by incentivizing private firms to produce PPE, including respirators, gloves, gowns, and eye protection, and to allocate some of these resources to first responders.”
The Defense Production Act was passed in 1950 in response to production needs during the Korean War and gives the government more control during emergencies to direct industrial production.
Eleven senators signed the letter, including Democrats Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Gary Peters of Michigan, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, along with Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Jerry Moran of Kansas.
The Trump administration has faced intense pressure to make use of the DPA, and has invoked it in some instances. But there have been ongoing calls from lawmakers for the President to take further action to utilize the law.
“We urge you to continue exploring every possible avenue to increase the supply of PPE to put more of this critical equipment into the hands of those who need it most, including first responders,” the senators wrote to the President.
“Without aggressive federal action, we risk leaving first responders across the country without the tools and equipment they need to keep both themselves and our communities safe during this crisis,” they said.
In one scenario where the Defense Production Act has come into play during the pandemic, the President announced on Monday the “saga” between his administration and 3M has ended with the finalization of a deal that will see the manufacturer supplying millions of masks for health care workers.
A senior administration official said that the government’s decision to use the Defense Production Act was key to shifting the trajectory of negotiations between the two sides.
In total, Trump said 3M would produce 166.5 million masks – nearly all N95s.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency describes the act as “the primary source of presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the US industrial base to support military, energy, space and homeland security programs.”
The act hands Trump “a broad set of authorities to influence domestic industry in the interest of national defense,” according to an updated Congressional Research Service report on the act.
CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux, Priscilla Alvarez, Lauren Fox and Sarah Westwood contributed to this report.