As we work to find out the scope and goals of the White House’s seizure of medical goods across the United States, a simpler pattern is coming into view: the White House seizes goods from public officials and hospitals across the country while doling them out as favors to political allies and favorites, often to great fanfare to boost the popularity of those allies. The Denver Post today editorialized about one of the most egregious examples. Last week, as we reported, a shipment of 500 ventilators to the state of Colorado was intercepted and rerouted by the federal government. Gov. Jared Polis (D) sent a letter pleading for the return of the equipment. Then yesterday President Trump went on Twitter to announce that he was awarding 100 ventilators to Colorado at the behest of Republican Senator Cory Gardner, one of the most endangered Republicans on the ballot this year. As the Post put it, “President Donald Trump is treating life-saving medical equipment as emoluments he can dole out as favors to loyalists. It’s the worst imaginable form of corruption — playing political games with lives.”
Will be immediately sending 100 Ventilators to Colorado at the request of Senator Gardner! https://t.co/Nj4EPxfZl6
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2020
Were these a subset of the same ventilators? Like money, amidst the COVID-19 Crisis, all ventilators are fungible. It’s hard to know whether President Trump even knew in this case that his pandemic task force had swiped away five times as many ventilators just days before. Indeed, we still don’t whether this is all a central part of the White House’s crisis strategy – grabbing supplies from blue states to hand out to endangered Republicans or red state allies – or simply a layering of corruption over the general chaos.
New examples of confiscations or rerouted orders crop up almost every day. Here’s one about a shipment of test kit materials bound for the PeaceHealth hospital system in the Pacific Northwest seized and shipped, purportedly, to the East Coast. The supplies would allow hospitals like Bellingham, Washington’s St Joseph’s Hospital to do tests on premises and more quickly ascertain who is COVID-positive and who’s not. “Our analyzers remain idle, while we continue to send specimens to outside laboratory testing sites, prioritizing labs based on the shortest turnaround times,” a spokesman for the hospital system told The Bellingham Herald.
For all the confusion, what is clear is that the federal government is demanding that states, localities and hospital systems find their own supplies while systematically interdicting those they do purchase and rerouting them in other directions while providing no explanation of what standards are being used to distribute them. At the same time, Republican officeholders keep turning up announcing windfalls of medical supplies courtesy of the President. In many cases, like Gardner, they’re Republicans within blue or purple states.
On April 4th, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) appealed to Jared Kushner and former congressional colleague turned White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for an infusion of supplies. (Zeldin represents New York’s 1st district, which covers most of the eastern half of Long Island.)
Thank you to Jared Kushner and @MarkMeadows at the White House for your quick response with this tonight! Amazing how fast you are making the wheels turn here. Wow. https://t.co/cZA2QEjl6y
— Lee Zeldin (@RepLeeZeldin) April 5, 2020
As The Easthampton Star reported on the 6th, “Representative Lee Zeldin has established himself as a liaison between Suffolk County and the White House by speaking directly to Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of and senior adviser to President Donald J. Trump, about Suffolk’s needs as one of the country’s Covid-19 hot spots.”
We still know too little about what is happening and on what basis the White House is intercepting and distributing these scarce materials. One reason is that those who lose their shipments are afraid to speak out because they fear antagonizing the White House and losing any chance to get their masks and supplies returned.
We need more information, more explanations of what standards the White House is using to distribute these goods. The consistent refusal to explain speaks volumes.