President Donald Trump has vowed to prepare for future pandemics by replenishing the national stockpile and bringing manufacturing of critical supplies and equipment back to the US.
His comments came the same day a whistleblower told Congress the Trump administration had failed to properly prepare for the current pandemic.
“Wouldn’t that be nice?” Mr Trump said during a visit to a Pennsylvania distributor of medical equipment. “My goal is to produce everything America needs for ourselves and then export to the world, including medicines.”
Mr Trump had complained about supply chains in a television interview that aired before he left Washington for the trip to Owens and Minor Inc. in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“These stupid supply chains that are all over the world — we have a supply chain where they’re made in all different parts of the world,” Mr Trump said in the interview with Fox Business Network.
“And one little piece of the world goes bad, and the whole thing is messed up.”
“We should have them all in the United States.”
It was Mr Trump’s second trip outside Washington in as many weeks as he tries to convince the public it is time for states to begin to open up again, even with the virus still spreading.
Mr Trump’s remarks came as federal whistleblower Rick Bright testified before a House panel on Thursday about his repeated efforts to jump-start US production of respirator masks that he says went nowhere.
In Pennsylvania, Mr Trump added to the pressure Democratic governor Tom Wolf is under from home-state Republicans to roll back stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns after effectively containing the state’s outbreak early on.
“We have to get your governor of Pennsylvania to start opening things up a bit,” Mr Trump said during a speech at the warehouse. He claimed some places in the state had been “barely affected”.
The president arrived in Allentown on a campaign-like visit to highlight a US medical equipment distributor that is helping make and ship gowns, gloves and other personal protective gear across the country.
Mr Trump did not wear a face covering as he stepped off Air Force One. During the flight, chief of staff Mark Meadows wore a navy blue face mask embossed with the presidential seal in gold. Officials wiped down the handrails on the staircase before Trump arrived.
Scores of people lined the motorcade route. The crowd grew thicker — with many barefaced — and began to chant “USA!” and “Four more years!” as Mr Trump arrived at the factory.
After a tour, during which Mr Trump also did not wear a mask, he addressed several dozen employees clad in matching neon yellow company T-shirts, all wearing face masks and sitting with appropriate distance between them.
Mr Trump said he wanted to ensure the next president did not inherit an empty stockpile and would build up a three-month supply of items including ventilators and N95 respirator masks that have been in short supply. He said he would like many of these items to be American-made.
Mr Trump repeatedly has complained about inheriting a depleted stockpile from the Obama administration, glossing over the fact he had held office for three years before the coronavirus reached the US, and had ample time to replenish equipment and supplies if doing so had have been a priority.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday was forced to retract comments he had made earlier in the week about the Obama administration not leaving behind a “game plan” for any future pandemics. The Obama administration had, in fact, left behind a 69-page pandemic playbook.
“Yeah, I was wrong,” Mr McConnell said on Fox News. “They did leave behind a plan, so I clearly made a mistake in that regard.”
As the pandemic took hold in the US and governors desperately sought the federal government’s help attaining supplies and equipment, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, sparked outrage by referring to the national stockpile as “our stockpile”, and saying its contents were not meant to be shared with the states.
Some states found themselves competing against, and at times losing to, the federal government in the hunt for supplies.
Mr Trump said he wanted to bring “critical” manufacturing back to America and announced he’d signed an executive order to require an obscure federal agency that invests in other countries to begin making similar investments domestically.
“I’m determined that America will be prepared for any of the future outbreaks,” Mr Trump said.