Trump privately says he’s facing pressure over refusal to use Defense Production Act


On Sunday, Trump's coronavirus working group had an orientation scheduled at 4:30 p.m. ET, but the president wanted it to be moved to "prime time", according to two people familiar with what happened. The White House pushed the orientation to 5:00 PM, then 5:30 PM. and the president finally entered the room almost an hour and a half after it was originally scheduled to begin.

Trump told aides he wanted to be at the microphone during optimal viewing times – and his look came after he spent the day carefully appealing from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, which asked him to use the Defense Production Act instead of states getting into "a crazy bidding war" over supplies.

Trump signed the act giving him authority to direct private companies to increase needed supplies last week, but has refused to exert his powers for the time being.

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Right after the announcement that he wanted to invoke the Defense Production Act, the White House received pushback from business leaders who expressed concern that the action could cause major unforeseen problems, including loss of profits.

A source familiar with these closed-door calls described the feeling as "just telling us what we need to do and we should do it," as long as the Defense Production Act was not in use. Trump confirmed this Sunday, saying when the military was announced "it sent tremors" through business.

Trump seemed to paraphrase what someone has asked him about how the action should be used.

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"What are you doing? … You're going to take away companies? You're going to tell the companies what to do?" he said, looking to paraphrase the questions he was given.

There has been an internal split in the West Wing over whether to go ahead with it or to continue letting companies voluntarily increase the rate of production without the federal government's order. Health officials have openly warned that they do not have protective equipment or medical equipment to treat an influx of coronavirus patients, and state officials have said that attempts to get more supplies have become free for everyone.

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The gap on how to proceed was on full display when Peter Navarro, Trump's trade adviser who is not a member of the coronavirus task force, stepped up to the microphone Sunday. Navarro was an official who urged Trump to sign the Defense Production Act initially, but has claimed to do what has given the administration influence over private companies, and the next step is not yet needed.

"We will get what we need without putting a heavy hand on the government," Navarro said Sunday.

Navarro has taken a leading role in coordinating the supply chain with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which he acknowledged to CNN.

"My job in the White House now is to help marry the full government with full strength from private business to mobilize our industrial base and quickly get what we need, most urgent personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves and to test tickle element like swabs, "Navarro told CNN.

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"It's been tremendously helpful that the president signed the DPA last week. We've seen a noticeable uptick in the intensity of that mobilization, and my office uses the DPA every day as a quiet leverage to turbocharge the large outflow of volunteer efforts from business," he added .

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But it is still not clear that the administration has a well-thought-out strategy to get private companies to volunteer to produce enough medical equipment without buying guarantees.

While several White House forces, including Larry Kudlow, have told the president he doesn't need to use the Defense Production Act, others have argued he should do it before it's too late – a mindset that has stayed with the president in recent days .

Trump himself has caused confusion over the process. In a briefing Friday, he claimed he had already used the action, though aides later clarified that he had only signed it and the status had remained unchanged, something his FEMA administrator Pete Gaynor confirmed during an interview on CNN Sunday.

"If it comes to a point we have to pull the lever, we will," Gaynor said.

Two people familiar with the president's thinking said he is now thriving in a place where neither side is satisfied with his moves against the Defense Production Act. Those who wanted him to sign the law are not satisfied because he did, but do not use it. And the people who didn't want him to sign it are not because he did, while holding out hope that he doesn't actually want to use it.

CNN's Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.

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