Schumer: President Trump Must Appoint A Military Official As Czar For Both Production And Distribution Of Desperately Needed Medical Equipment; Schumer Says Present Personnel Not Up To The Job

April 1, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today spoke on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront about the need for President Trump to fully invoke the Defense Production Act and immediately appoint a military official to coordinate both the production and distribution of desperately needed medical equipment to the states. Leader Schumer also called for giving frontline coronavirus workers hazard pay. Below is a transcript of the interview:

Erin Burnett: OutFront now, the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Senator, I appreciate your time very much tonight. You know, the president making a point just moments ago in that briefing that he wants -- you know, he's saying he wants more than double what Democrats want and even more than what Republicans want. Do you give President Trump credit for saying that he is willing to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure?

Sen. Schumer: Well, I'd have to say seeing is believing. We once asked him for that amount, Speaker Pelosi and I in the White House, and he sort of got up and walked out. So let’s wait and see.

But let me say this Erin, our immediate problem is dealing with the health crisis. Infrastructure is good. I'm all for it. That's when we try to heal the economy. But until we get this crisis in order, the economy will get worse and worse and worse because people won’t be at their jobs, people will be stuck in their homes, et cetera.

And here is one of the greatest problems we face. There's a dramatic shortage of all the needed supplies or most of them, whether its masks, whether its PEE, the protective equipment, whether it's ventilators. And we have no one really in charge. We have this awful spectacle of governors bidding against one another. One governor told me he called Sweden—or a mayor, actually, to get ventilators.

We have an act called the Defense Production Act. It was passed during the Korean War, it allows the president to appoint someone who can commandeer the factories and the supply chains to produce what’s needed and then distribute it to the place that’s most needed so we won't have this sort of chicken with your head cut off, everybody running around trying to get the equipment.

Now, the president appointed somebody, a man named Peter Navarro, a professor on China, to run the production side of it. I talked to him—he is not up to the job. He is a very nice man but he has no experience doing things like this. And they have no one that I can best tell in charge of the distribution.

They need one person, a military person, a general who knows how to deal with logistics and quartermastering, who knows command and control, you need to place that person, the czar, in charge of both production and distribution of all of these kinds of needed equipment and get it to the places that are needed. And that have shortages—

Erin Burnett: Because the reality is now he's saying the stockpile is nearly depleted. But another thing that's pretty clear, is not just what you’re talking about, the spectacle, which is a good word for it, of people bidding against each other for all these things. But there also seems to be a lack of awareness of what's really there and where, and where there is. Right? What PPE is in what state or is in what warehouse. And it seems absurd that people don’t know.

Sen. Schumer: It is.

Erin Burnett: What PPE is in what state or is in what warehouse. And it seems absurd that people don’t know.

Sen. Schumer: It's a big mess. And this is a job—the military is great at stuff like this. When they go into battle or prepare for a battle they have to put different kinds of equipment in different kinds of places all at once. There are some very fine generals and high ranking members of our military who could do this job if they were appointed, given the power and let loose. I called the president, I called him personally, several weeks ago and said invoke the DPA, the Defense Production Act, which is on the books. He had somebody in the room, he said, “let's do it.” But then a few hours later he said he’s not gonna do it.

Erin Burnett: So why do you think he hasn’t do it. He threatened again to do it with GM over the weekend. What’s holding him back? It's not a fear of socialism. What is it?

Sen. Schumer: I have no idea why he's not doing it. It is exactly—this DPA, so to speak, is what the doctor ordered.  And he should do it immediately. We're running short. I can tell you from my dear home city of New York. There are shortages all over the place. I talked to a bunch of hospital workers and health care workers last night, and they told me they don't have what they need.

Erin Burnett: Do you have any specific generals in mind that you would recommend?

Sen. Schumer: No. I’d leave that—frankly, I'd ask General Milley who’s the best person to do this. I have a lot of respect for him. He's head of the Joint Chiefs, he's had years of military experience. He would know just the person to do this.

Erin Burnett: You're talking also about asking the president to sign an executive order that would allow for hazard pay for doctors and nurses, 25 percent hazard pay. Trump was just asked about this at the presidential briefing. He said, quote, “I like it. It's being discussed. Not definitive." Have you had any discussions with him yet?

Sen. Schumer: Yeah, I have sent him a letter. I believe I have sent it tonight or tomorrow asking that he can do this by executive order, give hazard pay to all federal workers who are in harms way. And then I think we should legislate it and require everybody to get it. We’d have to do it in COVID4, which will come up in a few weeks—but right now, if president did it and set an example, I think lots of private sectors would do it. Some are doing it already. 

Erin Burnett: Quickly, if you do it in a few weeks, who knows where we are on the curve at that point, but would it be back pay for doctors and nurses who are working right now on the frontlines?

Sen. Schumer: I'd like that. And by the way, I'm sending the president a letter on this, first thing, the DPA and urging that he pick a military person in charge, first thing tomorrow morning. I hope he'll respond positively.

Erin Burnett: Alright, I appreciate your time, Senator. Thank you so very much, Senator Schumer.

Sen. Schumer: Erin, very nice to talk to you. And be safe. Keep safe.

Erin Burnett: You too, sir. 

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