Rep. Diana DeGette, a veteran Democrat, said that President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would send 100 ventilators to Colorado smacks of a political favor to vulnerable GOP Sen. Cory Gardner after the federal government had not fulfilled the delegation’s request for the devices.
“I think this thing that happened with Sen. Gardner and President Trump is very disturbing,” the Colorado Democrat told CNN Wednesday evening. “What is the process here?”
DeGette said that while she wants the state to get every ventilator it can – after initially requesting 10,000 – the process employed by the White House shows that the President appears to be doling out the ventilators to his allies at a time when the virus is affecting people of all political persuasions.
“It seems that way to me,” DeGette said when asked if it appeared to be a political favor to Gardner. “I was totally outraged.”
DeGette said that the decision to award 100 ventilators followed a tortured process after the state’s delegation and Democratic Gov. Jared Polis had been asking for 10,000 ventilators.
But while they were waiting for an answer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Polis reached a deal with a private company for 500 ventilators to be sent to the state. Once FEMA got word of the state deal, the federal agency stepped in to prevent that contract from going through so it could acquire the ventilators instead, Polis said on CNN last week.
Gardner then called Trump on Tuesday night, and the President tweeted Wednesday that the state would get 100 ventilators from the federal stockpile at the Republican senator’s request. Gardner is one of the most vulnerable Republican senators up for reelection.
“They’ll be there very shortly,” Trump said at his Wednesday evening press conference after touting Gardner’s role in securing the 100 ventilators.
On a private call with House Democrats Wednesday afternoon, DeGette railed against the administration’s handling of the ventilators – and accused Vice President Mike Pence of “lying” about the process for doling out the devices, according to two sources on the call. Pence wasn’t on the call at the time but had just briefed Democrats about what he characterized as a methodical process of spreading equipment to those most in need.
DeGette, who chairs an oversight subcommittee on House Energy and Commerce, told CNN she didn’t “recall” saying Pence lied, but acknowledged she expressed concerns about the administration’s handling of the issue.
After discussing the criteria the administration says it uses to determine who gets the ventilators, DeGette said in an interview: “Nowhere did it say if a Republican senator calls up the President they can get it,” noting Gardner then took “all kinds of credit on national TV.”
DeGette said that the delegation had been working in a bipartisan manner to get the proper equipment, but she said of Gardner’s moves, “I don’t think that’s helpful.”
After Trump tweeted that the state would get the 100 ventilators at Gardner’s request, the senator praised the President in an interview with Fox News.
“The Governor has been searching for ventilators and FEMA has also been searching for ventilators. I talked to the President last night about the Colorado need for ventilators, and of course, I’m very thankful that he provided that last night,” Gardner said. “We’re going to continue to work with the President for more and continue to meet Colorado’s needs, but I think it’s just a sign that we are fighting for Colorado.”
Asked at Wednesday’s coronavirus task force briefing about the ventilators sent to Colorado, and whether having a personal relationship with Trump is a factor in securing necessary supplies from the federal government, both Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, demurred.
“We’ve been watching Denver very closely, and like many of the other key areas that I touched on, we’re beginning to see some encouraging news in our interactions with the governor and with local officials and with the senator,” Pence said when questioned about the decision. “We’ve made an effort not only in Colorado, but around the country, to be particularly responsive to states where we’ve seen a growth in cases.”
As of Wednesday evening, Colorado had reported 5,655 cases of coronavirus and 193 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
Asked again whether politicians who enjoy personal relationships with the President were receiving preferential treatment, Birx responded: “I can tell you that within that decision complex is not just the absolute number of cases, it’s the hospital capacity and what each of those hospitals have.”
A Gardner spokesman referred CNN to the senator’s comments from Fox News.
Asked about Trump giving credit to Gardner, Polis sidestepped the question.
“Well, you’re not going to get my read on it because I’m not here to do political analysis,” Polis told reporters. “I’m here to celebrate any ventilators that arrive in our state and, of course, we are grateful for 100 ventilators.”