Bennet Demands President Fully Use All Defense Production Act Authorities to Scale Up Manufacturing of Test Kits, Other Medical Equipment
VIDEO: Watch Bennet’s speech here
Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet spoke on the Senate floor urging President Donald Trump to level with the American people about the critical shortages of medical supplies and equipment needed to address the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Bennet also urged the president to use his authorities under The Defense Production Act to address these shortages as part of a coherent national strategy. Earlier this week, Bennet led every Senate Democrat in a letter to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence demanding answers about testing and equipment shortages, and calling on the administration to outline a plan to mobilize private industry to meet these shortages.
In his speech, Bennet said: “The administration hasn't taken this crisis seriously enough from the beginning. And when it comes to the equipment that people on the front line need, the ammunition – to use their words – that the people on the front line need, they're being ignored or dismissed with a bunch of happy talk about how we're going to solve this problem. If we can even admit that there is a problem.”
“And the result of something I never thought I would see in the United States of America, the country I grew up in – states like New York are being forced to outbid New Jersey and California to secure critical supplies while they're fighting throughout the worst public health crisis in a century,” said Bennet. “We are failing, Mr. President. We are failing to address the seriousness of the public health crisis this country is facing, and we are going to rue the day that we said it was the hospitals’ problem to solve. That it was the governors' problems to solve. That it was the states' problems to solve.”
“We are one nation under God for a reason, Mr. President, and that is to respond to a challenge just like this one. It cannot be one hospital at a time, one state at a time, or one business at a time. That won't work. It's not a strategy,” continued Bennet. “In fact, it's making matters worse. Because not only are we not fixing the supply chain but the pricing is getting completely distorted, and people are competing with an incredibly scarce amount of goods. This is not a substitute, Mr. President, for a coherent national strategy to figure out how we’re going to meet the critical supply shortages across the country.”
Bennet’s remarks as delivered are below:
Thank you, Mr. President. I'd like to thank my colleague from Connecticut for his remarks tonight and for the hopefulness he has expressed. I’ve been here now for 11 years and I -- I've been here now for 11 years and I can't predict success and I can't say it is assured. But I can say that it is very likely that will come together on a deal today, and I think the American people will assess the progress that's been made for workers as a result of taking a little bit of extra time for hospitals as a result of taking a little bit extra time, for state and local governments who are going to benefit mightily because of the work that we've done.
And so I rise tonight really not to get into this back and forth about this, because I think that we are going to address it. I think that we are going to address it in a way that's meaningful, and in a way that's bipartisan, and in a way that can help give the American people a measure of confidence that we're doing our job. And for those of you that have heard me over the years on this floor, I don't always come here with a report that optimistic. But tonight, given everything I've heard over the course of the day, I want to say this is a serious problem. It's an unprecedented challenge. We have to rise to this challenge together. And I believe that when the votes are counted on this bill, it will have been a better bill for the work that's been done, and the vote will be a big bipartisan vote, which would be a shot in the arm for the country and for the American people.
I want to talk, not about this back-and-forth. I want to talk about something that's confronting us, and that is the worst pandemic in a century.
Just a month ago, just 30 days ago, nobody here would have imagined 30 days ago we had 30 confirmed cases in the U.S. Today there are over 41,000 cases -- the most anywhere outside of China and Italy. The president is right. He goes out and says, there are 140-some countries that have this. That's true. We're in the top three of those countries.  Americans have died as we're here tonight.
And in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century, our medical community doesn't have the basic supplies and equipment they need to respond. This matters, Mr. President, because if we don't get our doctors and nurses protective gear, they're going to get sick. And if they get sick, they can't help everyone else who's sick. That is a huge problem. And our medical professionals in Colorado, as in the Commonwealth of Virginia, all across this country, have been begging for us to pay attention to this for months. For months.
The Chief Medical Officer at Denver Health, which is our fabulous public hospital in Denver, one of the leading hospitals in this country. The Chief Medical Officer there says, they do not have enough tests or swabs to keep pace. And the turnaround time for tests is taking much too long. “Our ICU right now is full of patients awaiting test results,” she said. “We need faster testing.” And hopefully those coming, but it's been a long time getting here. And every single health care worker who's tested in this country but doesn't get a result for five or six or seven or eight days, even if they don't have the coronavirus, can't go back to work. And as a result of that, we face a severe shortage of health care workers in this country. At Denver Health, they say, “We're burning through our professional protective equipment to the point that we're on short supply, as is every other health care institution in Denver, and likely in Colorado.” If this continues, she said, we're going to have to put two patients on a single ventilator. That's not how it's supposed to work.
In Colorado, our nurses are sewing masks because they don't have masks. My wife was sewing a mask at our home in Denver yesterday. In the United States, in the 21st Century, we have doctors who are getting just a single mask and being told to use it indefinitely. I was on the phone this evening with doctors and administrators from our hospitals, who are telling me that they are having to ration swabs for tests. It's a two-swab test, but they're only using one swab because they don't have enough swabs to do it properly. There are doctors that are having to use the same mask -- patient after patient -- when the mask is designed for it to only be one patient. That's the way it's supposed to work. They are violating protocols of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control because they are rationing equipment. That there's no excuse in this country, the richest country in the world, they should be rationing during this public health care crisis.
Gowns, masks, shields, clothes -- America's health care workers don't have any of it. And you know what they spent today doing? They spent today scrolling through ads -- not all of them, not the ones with patients, but the ones who have to equip our medical professionals -- scrolling through ad after ad after ad. From where? China. Saying that there are masks for sale in China. They have no idea whether these are fly-by-night organizations, these companies are requiring Denver Health and other hospitals to put the money up front and say, “you'll get the masks three or four weeks from now.” They don't even know whether those masks will come. They don't know what the quality of those masks will be. We were told yesterday by the president that China was sending us masks and now all of those seem to be being sent to Italy.
I saw a quote from a doctor in California who said, “it's like we're at war with no ammo.” That's not their fault. That is not their fault. And they are on the front lines of this war. We should be ashamed. We should be ashamed. I am. So the question is, how are we going to make sure our medical community has the supplies and equipment they need? Perhaps it would be useful to be honest about where we are. To start with.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that we are going to need 3.5 billion masks to fight this pandemic this year. And when you hear me tonight use the word “mask,” just in your own mind add the word “gown.” Add the word “gloves.” Add the word “shield.” Because they need all of that. 3.5 billion masks to fight this pandemic this year.
When the administration first came with their first supplemental -- requesting $1.8 billion, today we’re at $2 trillion in just the last month -- in just the last month. They came and said, “$1.8 billion.” They said “we're going to need 350 million masks.” We need 3.5 billion masks. Billion masks this year. Today in America, we have exactly 35 million masks. That is 1 percent of what we need. Not 80 percent -- 1 percent of what we need.
Nationwide tonight our hospitals have 160,000 ventilators, among all the hospitals that we have in the greatest country in the world. Johns Hopkins estimates we're going to need another 40,000 ventilators by the time this is done. And you know what I heard tonight in Colorado -- this might be of interest to the other senators that are here tonight, because New York represents half of the cases in this country right now -- the concern from Colorado, and I'm sure from your states as well, is, all those ventilators are going to go to New York -- as they should right now, because that's where the greatest need is. What's going to be left for the rest of us? What's going to be left for the rest of us in seven days or ten days or 20 days? How can we be this foolish? How can we be this blind?
The administration hasn't taken this crisis seriously enough from the beginning. And when it comes to the equipment that people on the front line need, the ammunition -- to use their words -- that the people on the front line need, they're being ignored or dismissed with a bunch of happy talk about how we're going to solve this problem. If we can even admit that there is a problem. And the result of something I never thought I would see in the United States of America, the country I grew up in: states like New York are literally being forced to outbid New Jersey and California to secure critical supplies while they're fighting through the worst public health crisis in a century.
Yesterday, the president said during his press conference in the White House, he said, we want them to be on that market, on that open market, because we might lose money if we're not on that open market. Exactly the opposite of what he thinks is happening is happening. Governors like Andrew Cuomo are being forced to pay $7 for surgical masks that just a week ago cost 85 cents. My doctors in Colorado told me tonight, stuff yesterday that was five times the cost of what it ordinarily is today is seven times the cost of what it ordinarily is. In Colorado our Children's Hospital is paying 70 cents a mask -- ten times what they were spending a month ago. Ventilators used to call a few thousand dollars now cost up to $40,000, because the president won't act.
He will not provide the national leadership that we need. Ten days ago he said on the test, “I don't take any responsibility at all.” That's what he said. He may think he doesn't have the blame for everything that's gone wrong and I'm sure he doesn't, but he does have a very profound responsibility now, that only the President of the United States has.
When governors from across the country raised the supply shortages with him last week, he told them to, quote, “get it yourself.” He told them that the federal government is not, quote, “a shipping clerk.” He said, quote, “the governors locally are going to be in command. We will be following them. And we hope they can do the job.” Quote: “We are there to back you up should you fail.”
We are failing, Mr. President. We are failing to address the seriousness of the public health crisis this country is facing, and we are going to rue the day that we said it was the hospitals’ problem to solve. That it was the governors' problems to solve. That it was the states' problems to solve.
And I want to say this to the American people tonight, because it is really important that you know what the facts are. It's important for you to know that we don't need tens of thousands of masks or millions of masks. We need billions of masks. And all the other equipment that I talked about earlier: gowns, shields, swabs, the elements of tests, the reagents that are necessary to take those tests. When I say we, I'm talking about the health care professionals that we are relying on to be the front line in this effort.
And what is the president's response to this? He's touted the shipments coming out of our national stockpile. I'm coming to think this national stockpile must be more like a really small national warehouse. Colorado received that shipment yesterday. We're grateful for it. We are grateful for the shipment we got from the national stockpile. But I want my colleagues to hear me. The Department of Public Health in Colorado estimates that those supplies will last for a single day of statewide operation. One day.
When the president comes out and talks about the tens of thousands of masks that, you know, are going to New York or California, as if that can make the difference, it won't make a difference when you need millions of masks. And then at a press conference yesterday he suggested that new commitments by private businesses will somehow be enough. He said “the numbers are quite large and we have tremendous numbers of companies making equipment”; “We have
respirators. We have ventilators. We have a lot of things happening right now”; “We have millions of masks that are coming” -- millions of masks, not billions. “They will be here soon,” he said. “They will be shipped directly to the states.” He failed to mention that “soon” actually means 18 months from now. That's not going to help us. We don't have 18 months. It's literally life and death.
And it's for all of these reasons, Mr. President, that we ask the president to invoke his authorities under the Defense Production Act, which gives him -- and him alone -- the ability to mobilize private industry so we can ramp up production in a coordinated and coherent way. So we can have a national approach to fixing this broken supply chain. To fixing the empty storerooms. And to putting these critical supplies and equipment on the front line.
And I was so pleased that he invoked those authorities five days ago. But instead of using them, he's equivocating. He said things like, “We have the Act to use in case we need it,” the president said, “but we have so many things being made right now by so many.” He didn't finish the sentence but he meant, in this voluntary effort -- which I deeply appreciate, by the way, don't get me wrong. Every single mask, and every single gown, and every single shield, and every single respirator, that can be manufactured or lent to the people on the front lines, that's important. But it's not going to solve this crisis. It's not going to keep us in a position where we can actually flatten the curve.
He said yesterday, “We're a country not based on nationalizing our businesses. Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them how did nationalization for their businesses work out.” As every senator here knows, the Defense Production Act doesn't nationalize businesses. It is our tool. It is a mechanism. To create a coherent strategy for our public sector and our private sector to produce goods based on an urgent national need, and the government pays market value for those goods. It has a strategy for how those goods will be distributed around the country as the epidemic moves from place to place.
It is unacceptable that we're in a situation where states are having to bid against each other. Where the hospitals in Colorado are having to bid against each other. They said to me tonight, “Michael, if you could just get us five million masks and send them to Colorado, we could distribute them,” but it makes no sense for us to be looking up the yellow pages in China to buy masks. And I said to them I wish that were enough. I wish that would be enough, but as long as Colorado is going to have to compete with New York, is going to have to compete with New Jersey, or compete with Florida, or compete with Texas, it won't work. And it's not just the price -- although that is shocking. The fact that there are people gouging, you know, in a moment like this, is appalling. It's not just the price. It's the availability.
The nurses and doctors in Denver, Colorado, or in any city in this country tonight should not be using one swab for a test that takes two. They should not be wearing one mask all day long with a mask that's designed to be worn just with one patient. Donald Trump said -- the president said yesterday he looked into this as a businessman -- he was shocked at all the masks being thrown away. We ought to be able to sterilize the masks. There are important reasons why we have those rules: to protect our health care workers, and so we don't spread disease. By the way, I asked, I said look, does it solve your problem that the president has said we can use construction masks now in our health care facilities? They said, we're grateful for the additional masks that we're getting, but it's not remotely helping fix the problem, the scale of the problem. And, a lot of these masks actually aren't appropriate in a health care setting.
They'll do anything. They're not saying -- they're not looking their nose up at it. I had somebody say to me, today, one of the people on the call said they'd gotten masks from a fingernail salon. And that they had no idea what quality the masks were -- there was Asian writing on the outside of the package, they don't know what it is, but those masks will be there whether they run out of all the other masks. That's what they're going to use. That is what we're using in the United States of America tonight? That's what we're telling the people we're asking to save our lives, to save our parents' lives? That's what we're saying?
I'm sure the other senators have had the same experience that I've had, which is that I've been in touch with companies all over my state that stand ready to help produce supplies and equipment. The president said yesterday, one of the problems he had with this -- one of the challenges that he had was, you wouldn't have any idea where to begin. Don't know who makes ventilators. Maybe they made them a long time ago and they'd forgotten how to do it -- but, surely he doesn't believe that we can't figure that out. That we couldn't figure that out in a split second where the manufacturing capacity is in this country to do what needs to be done. But these companies have said to me that nobody in the administration has been in touch to tell them what to make, how much to make, or where it should go.
And the truth is, and the truth needs to be understood -- and I say to my colleagues, thank you for your indulgence -- just, I think this is a moment in time when we have to get this right, and we are getting it so wrong. The truth is, as much as we welcome all of the citizens and businesses who are stepping up on their own, it won't be enough. Hanes can’t produce 3.5 billion masks. They are a great company. They are involved in cotton products, as the president said yesterday. They can’t make 3.5 billion masks. They can't do it in the time we need it done. G.M. and Tesla can't manufacture 40,000 ventilators. The two million masks that the vice president trumpeted yesterday from Apple -- we appreciate it. It's an infinitesimal amount. It sounds like a big number. That’s why the president actually said yesterday, the reason I come out and read these big numbers is so you will know that we are sending out lots of stuff -- he said that. And I think that is a complete misimpression that somehow this is handled, or that we got it together.
We are one nation under God for a reason, Mr. President, and that is to respond to a challenge just like this one. It cannot be one hospital at a time, one state at a time, or one business at a time. That won't work. It's not a strategy. In fact, it's making matters worse, worse. Because not only are we not fixing the supply chain, but the pricing is getting completely distorted, and people are competing with an incredibly scarce amount of goods.
This is not a substitute, Mr. President, for a coherent national strategy to figure out how we’re going to meet these critical supply shortages across the country. And every single day it gets worse. You can hear the panic in the governors. And in the people working in our hospitals. And the people that are working with people who are having to go in under unsafe conditions, willing to do it. On the front line of this war -- with no ammunition. With no ammunition.
And as much as the president may not want to make these hard decisions, for whatever reason. Because he hopes for the best. Because maybe the medical thing will work itself out. Because maybe instead of 18 months it’ll be shorter for a vaccine. Because maybe the hot weather will make things better. He's literally the only one with the authority to call America to this challenge.
The president is portraying himself as a wartime president, but he’s leaving it up to Hanes to plan D-Day. It won't work. He needs to give the front line of this war the ammunition they need, and he’s the only one who can do it. No one else can do it. This Senate can't do it. So there’s been a lot of back and forth today about, you know, a brief delay in passing this economic package. As I said, I hope very much it will pass. I hope very much we’ll have a deal soon. I hope very much it will be bipartisan. We should do our work, and we should get that done. But I beg you -- I beg you -- my colleagues in the United States Senate: every member of this body should be calling on the White House and asking why, after weeks, months, there is still no plan to make sure our doctors and nurses have the gear to protect themselves. Why our hospitals still don't have the ventilators they need to treat people, and why it's not obvious where those ventilators are going to come from. Why we still don't have a clear strategy from this administration to arm the front line that is waging this war while we're here tonight.
This is perhaps the greatest challenge our country has faced since the Second World War. It probably is. And it is scary. But we’ve risen to the challenges before. And I think we can rise to this one.
I may not have voted for the president. I may not agree with much of what he does, but I urge him to act. I urge him to use the authority that's granted to him uniquely in America, out of 330 million Americans, only the President of the United States has that authority. He won that election. He has that authority. We can't do it without him. Lives are literally at stake, in Colorado and across the country. We need him to lead, and I beg every single member of this chamber to do whatever you can, if you have influence on him, to get him to understand the gravity of the situation we're facing. The scale of the situation that we're facing. The scope that we're facing. And the lack of preparedness that needs to be addressed by invoking his authority under that statute.
With that, Mr. President, I thank my colleagues for their patience, their indulgence, and I yield the floor.