The Journal Gazette
Saturday, April 04, 2020 1:00 am

Trump changes description of stockpile

Move comes after Kushner claimed it wasn't for states

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Friday abruptly changed its description of the Strategic National Stockpile and put forward a narrower vision of the role the federal government's repository of life-saving medicines and equipment should play in supplying states' needs.

The change comes as the White House already is facing growing anger and worry from governors over federal assistance to fight the coronavirus outbreak. But it conforms with President Donald Trump's insistence that the stockpile is only a short-term backup for states, not a commitment to ensure supplies get quickly to those who need them most during an emergency, the latest front in a concerted White House effort to try to put the onus for battling the crisis on the states, with Washington meant to play more of a supporting role.

Trump angrily defended the approach in his Friday news conference, his early sunny demeanor darkening as he was pressed on expected death rates and his son-in-law Jared Kushner's comments suggesting the national stockpile is not intended for states. He sparred with reporters and insisted his administration was “doing our best for New York,” the pandemic's epicenter, even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo warns the state is in danger of not having enough ventilators to help patients stricken with coronavirus in a matter of days.

The alteration of the language describing the stockpile was reflected on government websites Friday, a day after Kushner, a White House senior adviser who has taken a larger role in the coronavirus response, offered a new argument about the supplies.

After saying that states should use their own stockpiles first, Kushner on Thursday said, “And the notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be states' stockpiles that they then use.”

And asked what Kushner meant by “our stockpile,” Trump snapped at a reporter, “You know what 'our' means: United States of America ... our. Our. It means the United States of America.”

Trump on Friday touted the number of supplies it was sending to the states, including 8.1 million masks to New York. The president also directed FEMA to prevent export of the N95 masks under the Defense Production Act.

Until Friday, the federal Health and Human Services website had described the stockpile as “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.”

But the changed version available Friday morning said the 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.”

Democratic senators, including Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, demanded an immediate investigation into the stockpile. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., called the website alteration “despicable” and said the administration “should be spending every waking moment getting life-saving supplies to our health care providers on the front lines. Instead, they're spending valuable time editing the Strategic National Stockpile website.”

Officials at the agency said the change had been in the works for weeks, downplaying any connection to Kushner's comments. Kushner made his claim during his first appearance at the daily White House briefing, a moment meant to highlight his growing role in managing the federal response to the pandemic, particularly in delivering vital supplies.

Trump has long insisted that the primary responsibility lies with the states in managing the pandemic. He has resisted calls to issue a national stay-at-home order and said that he didn't want to overuse his authority to mobilize private companies for the effort, because he believed the states should take the lead in obtaining supplies.

“I leave it up to the governors,” Trump said Friday about whether every state should have a stay-at-home order. “I like that from the standpoint of governing.”

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