What Trump must do next: A Q&A with Sen. Bob Menendez
What Trump must do next: A Q&A with Sen. Bob Menendez
By: Editorial Board
On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Bob Menendez sent the President a letter that had no trace of bogus congeniality, which is always a risk when you’re asking Donald Trump for something.
New Jersey’s senior senator suggested — demanded, actually — that the president implement the Defense Production Act (DPA), which gives him the authority to ramp up production of critical equipment and supplies.
He did this as he reminded Trump that he has “lacked the urgency this crisis has called for,” and that this step could help “mitigate the damage” after weeks of “inaction, denial, and misinformation by your administration” in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Wednesday afternoon, Trump announced he was going to invoke the power of the DPA, which may be the only way this country can deal with the crushing need for ventilators, ICU beds, personal protection equipment, and other medical necessities in our immediate future.
Menendez laid out his own vision for federal action in a chat with Dave D’Alessandro of the Star-Ledger Editorial Board:
Q. The president heeded your advice and that of others by triggering the Defense Production Act. How do you want him to use it first?
Menendez: First and foremost, I want to see him ramp up the production of ventilators. I have been talking to the hospitals and healthcare professionals and the governor, and there will be a dearth of ventilators in comparison to the projected need in short order. And this is what the power of the federal government is meant for: States and localities simply cannot manage on their own. The federal government has to either be a partner or infuse money into a private entity and prioritize the materials that it needs so these things can be made in the quickest period of time.
Second, I want him to make sure there is a particular set of drugs that the hospitals need when patients are on ventilators to keep their blood pressure stabilized. That drug is getting a big run on demand.
And then we need a dramatic ramping up of personal protective gear. I even hear it from first responders, particularly EMTs, who are saying for the first time, “I’m not going to go on a call because I don’t have the right protective gear.” And I understand that. So we need to ramp this up dramatically.
Q. We have a national supply of about 160,000 ventilators, and we may need five times that amount based on some projections. How many can realistically be produced, and what other manufacturers can enlisted in this effort?
Menendez: There are a couple of manufacturers that can be engaged in this. The time frame is the big challenge, but if you don’t invoke the DPA, you’ll never get it done in any reasonable time. It’s also a matter of retooling your manufacturing base, to the extent that people can make parts for this who don’t normally do it. That’s why you use the power of the government to amass the supply chain you need.
Q. As you talk to local government and health care officials, are you hearing about any other urgent issues that the media isn’t reporting?
Menendez: It’s largely about testing – we’re doing a better job, but mostly through private labs, and there is a greater desire to get drive-through testing facilities up and running. And more protection gear. Beyond the health emergencies, you hear from mayors about other consequences: foreclosures and evictions, a real concern as many people without paychecks cannot deal with an emergency; the question of businesses we need to survive; concerns of the private sector — not in terms of needing money, but how they need flexibility from regulators to help with loans pending. And obviously, we’re hearing from United and the airline industry, the restaurant association, the hotel industry, all of which are facing major challenges.
Senator Bob Menendez
· Mar 17, 2020
BREAKING: When it comes to critical medical resources, states shouldn’t have to “try getting it [themselves].”
I’m calling on @realDonaldTrump to immediately exercise the powers authorized by the Defense Production Act to defend the health and safety of the American people.
Senator Bob Menendez
Read more about why President Trump needs to invoke the Defense Production Act ??https://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-urges-president-to-invoke-defense-production-act-to-combat-covid-19-outbreak …
Q. Just to add families to your list of challenges: It took four days for the Senate to pass the House bill that provided paid sick leave and other financial protection – four days in which New Jersey parents had to choose between work and child care, or weigh their own health against a paycheck. How long will this bill protect them from that recurring fear?
Menendez: First, let me emphasize this is a first tranche. This is definitely not the end-all. It has two weeks of COVID 19-related paid leave, and it has 10 weeks of paid leave for school closures, and it has a huge infusion of emergency unemployment insurance – Gov. Murphy told me they had a record 15,000 claims in the course of one day in New Jersey. And it waives all the cost-sharing requirements to allow for free virus testing who needs it, including the uninsured. It strengthens food security, including SNAP, food banks, and student meals, and it increases funds for Medicaid.
At the same time, I’m working with Cory Booker and others to put money directly in people’s pockets. It’s staged over three different tranches. And there’s another tranche coming that is nearly a trillion dollars that will have to be negotiated with Republicans — they have different visions, but their number is around a trillion as well.
Q. Even as we employ every tool in the vast American arsenal -– economic wealth, medical resources, manufacturing might, civil service, citizenry — are you confident that this administration can coordinate this massive undertaking? Because your letter seems dubious as to whether the president understands the gravity of this moment.
Menendez: Well, today — with the announcement that they’ll invoke the DPA, the announcement that they’ll send one of the navy hospital ships to our region, and the announcement about (HUD suspending) foreclosures — it’s the first time in this crisis that I have seen a sense of urgency from this administration. So that’s a good thing. It’s a little late, but today I’m not into throwing stones, I’m into what we can do to make it right from this point forward with this administration.
Q. But are you confident they can implement it?
Menendez: When I came to the House 28 years ago, I got in the elevator in the Longworth Building, and a guy said to me, “You’re the new member from New Jersey.’’ So I introduced myself and asked him what he did there, and he said, “I’m a ‘B’ employee.” So I asked what that meant, and he said, “I be here before you got here, and I be here when you’re gone.” I laughed too, but I came to understand what the B employees are about: If you allow professionals within the federal bureaucracy to execute, those people will serve professionally. However, if this president relies less on career professionals than political appointees, then we’ll be hurt. It’s in the national interest to let those people serve.
Q. One group the governors want to unleash is the Army Corps of Engineers, but what is reasonable to expect from any military unit?
Menendez: We’re sending out a letter to help the Corps open up places that can be repurposed – hospitals that were closed, maybe some federal locations. In our region we have one of the most active and elite Army Corps units – they do tons of stuff, like dredging and beach replenishment and flood control projects. This is where they’d prioritize, and put other things on hold. For example, I want to have an estuary in New York Harbor – it’s something we got the money for – but that goes on hold. Nobody can enjoy it if we don’t save lives. So we’re asking them to be engaged in helping us create hospitals. I already spoke to the commander, and I’m sending a letter to the president today.
Q. Based on what you hear from health care officials on the ground, how long before New Jersey’s health care system is in triage mode?
Menendez: I can’t give you that answer. It all depends upon how successful we are in bending the curve. We have a choice as New Jerseyans. If we don’t do the right thing and get the right help, our hospitals will be overwhelmed. We can either be part of the solution or be part of the statistics.