Pritzker on CNN: Trump ‘does not understand the word federal,’ as debate over COVID-19 stockpile rages

Pritzker on CNN: Trump ‘does not understand the word federal,’ as debate over COVID-19 stockpile rages

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on CNN ripped President Trump over management of the federal stockpile holding undistributed urgently needed COVID-19 supplies. | CNN screengrab

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on CNN ripped President Trump over management of the federal stockpile holding undistributed and urgently needed COVID-19 supplies.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker ripped President Donald Trump on Sunday over management of the federal stockpile holding undistributed and urgently needed COVID-19 supplies.

Trump – and Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law – have been saying the states have no special priority access to the Strategic National Stockpile to obtain desperately needed supplies.

Trump has been reluctant to fully distribute ventilators and other medical equipment from the national stockpile as governors, including Pritzker, are begging for help.

“The president does not understand the word federal – Federal Emergency Management Agency,” Pritzker said in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” referring to an agency most often known as “FEMA.”

“We have a state emergency management agency. But if he were right, why would we ever need a federal emergency management agency?

“It’s because individual states can’t possibly do what the federal government can do. We don’t have a defense production act. There’s no way that we could stockpile in anticipation of a pandemic that no one anticipated. And yet the federal government is responsible for doing precisely that.

“And we now know that intelligence sources and all the best advice that was given was given in January and early February to the president and the White House. And they seem not to have acted at all upon it. If they had started in February, building ventilators, getting ready for this pandemic, we would not have the problems that we have today and frankly, very many fewer people would die,” Pritzker said.

This issue came to a head at the Thursday White House coronavirus briefing when Kushner said, “The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile; it’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use.”

The word “our” dramatized Trump’s view that addressing the need to procure ventilators, masks, gloves and other urgently needed items as COVID-19 cases surge was the main responsibility of governors, not the federal government or the Oval Office. The federal government is merely a back-up, Trump has been saying.

At the Friday briefing asked to clarify Kushner’s remarks, Trump was defensive as he attacked the reporter for even asking.

“You ought to be ashamed. It’s such a simple question. He said “our.” And “our” means for the country and “our” means for the states,” Trump said.

Trump went on to say, “We have a federal stockpile, and they have state stockpiles. And frankly, they were many of the states were totally unprepared for this. So we had to go into the federal stockpile. But we’re not an ordering clerk.”

After Kushner made his “our” remark, fact-checks based on a statement on the website of the Strategic National Stockpile quickly revealed Kushner was wrong.

On Friday, that description was changed, with journalists, including CNN’s Daniel Dale showing screen shots of the altered language.

Friday morning the site said, “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. Organized for scalable response to a variety of public health threats, this repository contains enough supplies to respond to multiple large-scale emergencies simultaneously.”

Friday afternoon the edited statement said, “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.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., is among the Democratic senators who has demanded an immediate and independent investigation into potential improper political interference in the management of the Strategic National Stockpile in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

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