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GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to build ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Ventec

President Trump on Friday ordered General Motors to make ventilators to help coronavirus patients — something the automaker was already on track to do.

Why it matters: The United States was caught flat-footed by the surge in demand for medical supplies. If the federal government had enlisted manufacturers earlier, when the virus was beginning to spread throughout the world, GM and other manufacturers could already be producing thousands of ventilators per month.

  • Instead, they're just beginning to ramp up, with significant production volumes not likely until the end of April or later — too late, perhaps, to make a difference in New York or other emerging hot spots.

Where it stands: At a press briefing Friday, Trump said the administration is working with about 10 ventilator companies to increase production, and he named White House trade adviser Peter Navarro to oversee the effort.

  • Over the next 100 days, said Trump, "we will make or get" more than 100,000 additional ventilators.

Trump singled out GM for "wasting time," however, saying he would enforce the Defense Production Act, a wartime measure, to compel the company to "accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators."

The catch: He's attacking the only automaker that is making significant progress toward ventilator production.

While others like Ford and Tesla are conferring with existing ventilator manufacturers to see how they can help them expand production capacity, GM and a partner, Ventec Life Systems, are already gearing up to make the machines at a GM plant in Kokomo, Indiana.

  • Over the past week, GM and Ventec found global sources for all 700 necessary components in Ventec's multi-function ventilators.
  • Suppliers have been told to gear up for production of as many as 200,000 machines.
  • Unlike a car assembly line, the manufacturing process is fairly labor-intensive. GM plans to deploy 1,000 hand-raisers among its existing employees, and may hire new workers, too.

Between the lines: Trump has been a critic of GM and its chief executive, Mary Barra, for closing plants in the U.S., which seemed to play into his decision to enforce the DPA against GM and no other automakers.

  • While he said GM and Ventec wavered on how many ventilators they could deliver and how much it would cost, his explanation quickly belied his feelings toward the automaker.
  • "I didn’t go into it with a very favorable view," he told reporters Friday. "I was extremely unhappy they left Lordstown, Ohio. I love Ohio," which is an important swing state in the 2020 presidential race. "That would be a good place to build the ventilators."
  • GM sold its former Lordstown assembly plant last year, however, and recently announced plans to open a $2.3 billion battery factory nearby, creating 1,100 jobs.

What's next: After GM-built prototypes are validated and the Kokomo plant is cleared by the FDA — likely by the end of April — the two companies plan to scale up to 10,000 ventilators a month, compared to the 250 per month that Ventec currently produces.

Go deeper

DOJ seizes 36 U.S. website domains for Iranian government disinformation

Iran's President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference at Shahid Beheshti conference hall in Tehran on Monday. Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

American officials seized 36 news website domains linked to Iran's government for spreading disinformation as part of a propaganda campaign, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The action comes at a time of heightened tension between the two countries, with Iran's hardline President-elect Ebrahim Raisi on Monday ruling out negotiating over missiles or meeting with President Biden as the two nations hold talks on returning Tehran to the 2015 nuclear deal.

NYT: Khashoggi's killers had paramilitary training in U.S.

A vigil for journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, following his killing in 2018 in Turkey. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Several Saudis who took part in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi had paramilitary training in the U.S. under a State Department contract a year before his 2018 death, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Why it matters: While there's no evidence the department knew that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sanctioned Saudi officials to detain, kidnap and torture dissidents in 2017, the approval of such training underscores how "intensely intertwined" the U.S. has become with a nation known for human rights abuses, per the NYT.

U.S. attorney finalist trashes Labor secretary

Rachael Rollins and Marty Walsh. Photos: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images (Rollins); Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images (Walsh)

A finalist for U.S. attorney in Boston is publicly trashing the city's former mayor — Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

Why it matters: Rachael Rollins’ approach is perpetuating scrutiny of a troubled Cabinet secretary and fellow Democrat — and hints at the independence she may exhibit if tapped for top federal prosecutor for the eastern half of Massachusetts.