WASHINGTON – President Trump Monday largely absolved himself of the responsibility to increase the nation's supply of ventilators to respond to the coronavirus crisis, instead placing that burden on the nation's governors.
And on Twitter, Trump called out a governor who had said earlier that the federal government is best positioned to expand the supply of that critical medical equipment: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York.
"Just had a very good tele-conference with Nations’s Governors. Went very well. Cuomo of New York has to 'do more'," Trump tweeted.
Cuomo didn't take kindly to the president's tweet, which Trump later deleted.
"I have to do more?" Cuomo tweeted. "No – YOU have to do something! You're supposed to be the President."
On his conference call with the governors, though, Trump took a decidedly different approach to the one Cuomo suggested.
"Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment – try getting it yourselves," Trump told the governors, according to a recording of the call obtained by The New York Times, which first reported the call.
“We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself," Trump added.
Trump's tweet about Cuomo appeared shortly after Cuomo, at an Albany news conference, criticized Trump's lack of action to bolster the nation's hospital system amid the pandemic.
"Everybody wants to buy a ventilator, everybody wants to buy oxygen, everybody is trying to buy the same equipment and it's terribly scarce," Cuomo said. "That's why I go back again to the capacity of the federal government, which operates and maintains a medical emergency stock. ... They have equipment. They have a stockpile. That's why they're uniquely suited to do this."
Ventilators are considered especially important in responding to COVID-19, the respiratory disease resulting from the novel coronavirus, because they supply oxygen to patients who cannot breathe on their own.
Despite the shortage of ventilators, Cuomo said he is able to boost the state's hospital capacity in one way: by calling up the National Guard to assist in retrofitting underused properties into makeshift hospitals.
"We're going to organize the National Guard to work with the building unions and work with private developers to find existing facilities that could most easily be adapted to medical facilities," Cuomo said.
Those temporary hospitals could be built in dormitories and abandoned nursing homes, Cuomo said.
A day earlier, in an op-ed in The New York Times, Cuomo suggested that Trump involve the military in doing just that.
"States cannot build more hospitals, acquire ventilators or modify facilities quickly enough," Cuomo wrote. "At this point, our best hope is to utilize the Army Corps of Engineers to leverage its expertise, equipment and people power to retrofit and equip existing facilities — like military bases or college dormitories — to serve as temporary medical centers. Then we can designate existing hospital beds for the acutely ill."
Still obviously irked by Trump's tweet suggesting he "do more," Cuomo later tweeted in response to it: "Happy to do your job, too. Just give me control of the Army Corps of Engineers and I’ll take it from there."
At his afternoon press briefing, Trump said he is considering involving the Army Corps in the way Cuomo suggested.
Saying New York is not the only state to suggest that the Army Corps be used to build temporary hospitals, Trump said: "We're looking into it very strongly."
The governor and the president also disagreed, albeit more subtly, on the state of their relationship.
Thanking Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for allowing the state to begin its own coronavirus testing, Cuomo said: "I often tell you when I am unhappy with the federal response to this state, so fairness dictates kudos where kudos are due, and here the Vice President and the president responded very quickly."
But at his later press briefing, Trump insisted that while Cuomo still could "do more," the governor is satisfied with the federal government's responsiveness to the crisis.
In his press conference, Trump said: "We're getting along very well. ... In fact, I noticed he's made some statements just now that the relationship with the federal government has been good, that the federal government has done everything they've wanted us to do."