March 27 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Friday invoked the Defense Production Act to push General Motors to produce ventilators due to a shortage of the medical supplies in hospitals fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
The president announced the move in a statement after negations with the automaker earlier in the day failed.
"Today, I signed a presidential memorandum directing the secretary of Health and Human Services to use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators," Trump said.
GM said it has partnered with Ventec Life Systems to build the ventilators at its Kokomo, Ind., plant and plans to begin shipping them in April.
"GM is in the position to help build more ventilators because of the remarkable performance of GM and Ventec's global supply base," GM CEO Mary Barra said. "Our joint teams have moved mountains to find real solutions to save lives and fight the pandemic."
The president tweeted about his talks with GM earlier Friday, saying they waffled on how many ventilators they could produce and by what deadline. He called on the company to open its "abandoned" Lordstown plant in Ohio to start making the ventilators.
"Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course," Trump said in his statement. "GM was wasting time. Today's action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives."
The order comes one day after Trump expressed doubt that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo needed as many ventilators as he said he needed. Earlier this week, Cuomo called on the federal government to use the Defense Production Act to require companies to manufacture them immediately.
"If we don't have the ventilators in 14 days, it does us no good," he said. "Not to exercise that power is inexplicable to me."
Trump implied Cuomo was exaggerating the need.
"I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators," Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity. "You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes and they'll have two ventilators and now all of a sudden they're saying, 'Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'"
Hospitals across the United States are becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, many of whom need help breathing as the disease causes their lungs to fill with fluid and their airways to become inflamed.
The Henry Ford Health System in Michigan on Thursday prepared a policy to determine who will get ventilators in its hospitals should they have too many patients needing them. The hospital system said that in a worst-case scenario, they'd deny the equipment for patients who aren't expected to live.