For days, General Motors and Ventec Life Systems had been working on a deal that would use GM’s manufacturing capability to accelerate production of Ventec’s ventilators. Together, the two companies projected they could make as many as 80,000 ventilators over the next two months. The federal government’s contribution to this deal was simple enough: they would agree to buy most of these ventilators, providing GM with an up-front payment to help cover the cost of converting an existing auto plant in Indiana for the task. GM assured officials there was no issue with retooling, and Ventec and GM were reportedly moving at “breakneck speed” to meet the critical medical need.
That was before Trump decided that giving people ventilators was too pricey. With an estimated price tag for the deal at around $1 billion, that would put the ventilators at roughly $13,000 each—which is actually on the low end of what ventilators usually cost.
Trump was prepared to announce the deal on Wednesday, and hinted that he had big news coming during that day’s coronavirus-themed praise session. Instead, the deal—which reportedly included some ace negotiation from son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner—collapsed. Instead of providing thousands of generators, Trump simply went on Hannity to explain that breathing is overrated. “You go to hospitals who have don’t even have one [ventilator] in a hospital,” said Trump, “and all of a sudden everybody is asking for vast numbers.” How dare they.
But by lunchtime on Friday, Trump was ready to move to the next phase of this problem: blaming everyone but himself. First Trump pointed the finger at GM CEO Mary Barra, saying “things are always a mess” when she is involved. Trump ended that tweet with “Invoke P!”, which was apparently not a reference to anything that happened in a Moscow hotel but how all the cool kids are saying “I am going to invoke the Defense Production Act to order this done.”
Minutes later, Trump declared that GM “MUST” reopen their “stupidly abandoned” plant in Lordstown, Ohio and “START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!” That’s six exclamation points, which apparently means “without a contract.” Trump then made the same demand, with equal use of capital letters, of Ford, which had been working on its own to design a system for repurposing existing parts for ventilators.
The problem with these demands—other than everything about them—was that Trump not only referenced a dead Twitter account that doesn’t belong to General Motors, but the factory he called on them to use isn’t theirs. GM sold the factory last year to a startup company working on an electric pickup.
So Trump told the wrong Twitter account that GM has to start making ventilators using someone else’s factory, even though he pulled out of the deal to have GM make ventilators. And, after days of resisting all requests from governors and all officials, he appears to have invoked the Defense Production Act via a tweet so cryptically worded that he came back a half hour later to explain that “Invoke ‘P’ means Defense Production Act!”
Though it seems as if Trump believes that its GM that has to invoke the act. This makes some sense: Who would trust him with that kind of responsibility? It’s the kind of thing that makes the statement “we’re all going to die” seem so redundant.