Democrats seek info on how Trump officials distribute life-saving supplies

Details about one of most urgent aspects of the federal response to COVID-19 are unclear outside the administration

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and 18 other Democrats are demanding the president 
provide information on how decisions are being made about sending states ventilators, face masks and other vital health supplies.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and 18 other Democrats are demanding the president provide information on how decisions are being made about sending states ventilators, face masks and other vital health supplies. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 15, 2020 at 4:29pm

A month after President Donald Trump turned control of the national stockpile over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and tasked the agency with sending states life-saving supplies, Senate Democrats are demanding more information about how distribution decisions are made.

Led by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., 19 Democrats say in a letter to Trump Wednesday that they need details about the process for providing supplies such as masks and ventilators to states struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“How is the Administration prioritizing requests from states? Who is making decisions about current distribution practices?” they asked.

The letter underscores how details about one of the most urgent aspects of the federal response to COVID-19 — providing personal protective equipment to front-line workers and ventilators to hospitals — are unclear to those outside of the Trump administration.

The senators are pushing for more information about which areas of the country are getting supplies first and more transparency about how FEMA and the White House are making those decisions. They ask whether some supplies have been distributed based on political favoritism, not need.

FEMA has said it's distributing supplies to critical points of need where they are needed to sustain life. FEMA did not respond to questions requesting more information about how it makes those determinations.

The apparent lack of a clear-cut distribution process based on where hot spots will emerge or knowledge about existing supplies has hampered the ability of governors to manage the emergency response, they say. Governors and hospitals have been outbid for supplies by FEMA.

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., has likened the chaotic run on equipment to a scene out of Lord of the Flies.

And the lack of transparency has stoked fears of cronyism by the White House.

Trump, his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, and John Polowczyk, vice director of logistics for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have led decisions on the stockpile's supplies without transparency or accountability and have favored large corporations, NBC News reported Monday.

Earlier this month, a stock of ventilators that the state of Colorado had tried to purchase was sent instead to federal officials. The president then tweeted that he was sending a smaller supply to Colorado at the request of Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who faces a competitive reelection race, after he personally appealed to the president.

“They have to treat us well, also,” Trump said about governors in late March. “They can’t say, ‘Oh, gee, we should get this, we should get that.’”

The letter comes days after an investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee revealed that the national stockpile had run dry for states.

Protective equipment distribution until late March was driven not based on the number of COVID-19 cases in a particular state, but in part based on population, according to an internal FEMA spreadsheet the committee released.