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Cuomo says he needs 30,000 ventilators to avoid many coronavirus deaths. Trump doesn’t buy it.

“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Trump told Sean Hannity, in comments that pave the way for preventable deaths.

Trump and Hannity at a September 2018 rally in Las Vegas.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said this week that his state will need at least 30,000 ventilators to make sure everyone requiring hospitalization from the coronavirus is cared for properly. But during an interview on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Thursday, President Donald Trump said he doesn’t believe him.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being in said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be. I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Trump said. “You know, you go into major hospitals, sometimes they’ll have two ventilators, and now, all of the sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

The president’s comments represent more than an idle, factually dubious observation coming from someone who has already demonstrated he doesn’t understand why Covid-19 (the disease caused by coronavirus) is a unique public health crisis. They underscore the danger of his increasingly contentious relationship with the states on the front lines of the pandemic — particularly with those led by Democratic governors.

The president’s active help is necessary — Cuomo said on Tuesday that “the only way we can obtain these ventilators is from the federal government” and characterized getting more of them as “the difference between life and death, literally,” for people in his state.

Trump, however, doesn’t seem to think he has an obligation to come through.

(Trump tried to walk back his comments downplaying the need for ventilators on Friday morning. In a string of angry tweets, Trump demanded that General Motors “GET GOING” on manufacturing “40,000 much needed Ventilators” — demands illustrating just how incoherent he can be.)

Trump’s comments to Hannity about ventilators was just one of many he made during the interview indicating he’s trying to shift blame for the coronavirus crisis onto Democratic governors who have dared to criticize him for the coronavirus outbreaks in their states.

At another point, Trump went on the attack against Washington’s Jay Inslee and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer — whose name he couldn’t remember — saying, “We don’t like to see complaints.” He even went as far as to suggest that he’s thinking twice about granting Whitmer’s request for a federal emergency declaration in her state, despite having granted others for states around the country.

Here’s what Trump said, followed by the video:

People like Governor Inslee — he should be doing more, he shouldn’t be relying on the federal government. Governor Inslee, that’s the state of Washington. He was a failed presidential candidate, and, you know, he’s always complaining.

And your governor of Michigan, I mean, she’s not stepping up. I don’t know if she knows what’s going on, but all she does is sit there and blame the federal government. She doesn’t get it done, and we send her a lot. Now she wants a declaration of emergency, and, uh, we’ll have to make a decision on that. But Michigan is a very important state. I love the people of Michigan, what they do. I’m the one — I’m bringing back many, many car factories into Michigan. She is a new governor and it’s not been pleasant.

By the way, most governors have been fantastic. I have to tell you, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. But we’ve really had some trouble with the state of Washington. The governor — you know, he ran for president, didn’t exactly do well, he got zero. And we’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman, governor from — you know who I’m talking about — from Michigan. So we can’t, ah, we don’t like to see the complaints.

Like Cuomo, Inslee has pleaded with Trump to do more to help his state obtain needed supplies. During a conference call between the president and governors on Thursday, he responded to Trump describing the federal government as the “backup” for states in crisis by telling him that “we don’t need a backup. We need a Tom Brady.” That comment seemed to still be rankling Trump hours later.

Along the same lines, Whitmer said during an MSNBC appearance on March 17 that “the federal government did not take this seriously early enough” and added, “To hear the leader of the federal government tells us to work around the federal government because it’s too slow is kind of mind-boggling, to be honest.” Trump was apparently watching and responded a short time later with a tweet blasting her.

On Friday, Whitmer told a Michigan radio station that following Trump’s comments about her to Hannity, “what I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we’ve procured contracts — They’re being told not to send stuff to Michigan. It’s really concerning.”

“I’ve been uniquely singled out,” Whitmer added. “I don’t go into personal attacks, I don’t have time for that, I don’t have energy for that, frankly. All of our focus has to be on Covid-19.”

Trump’s interview with Hannity came two days after he said during a previous Fox News appearance that he’s willing to help blue-state governors who are struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks — but only if they’re willing to stop criticizing him in exchange.

“It’s a two-way street,” Trump said. “They have to treat us well, also. They can’t say, ‘Oh, gee, we should get this, we should get that.’”

Trump’s idea that he’s only obligated to do things for people whom he doesn’t perceive as being on his team if they behave as he wants has manifested itself repeatedly throughout his term in office — consider his alleged demand that Ukraine investigate the Bidens in order to receive foreign aid, or the infamous image of him tossing rolls of paper towels at Puerto Ricans whose lives had just been upended by a deadly hurricane while he feuded with San Juan’s Democratic mayor. But in the context of the coronavirus outbreak, this mode of transactional thinking could cost lives.

Trump doesn’t seem to understand how the coronavirus could cause hospitals to be overwhelmed

During other parts of the interview with Hannity, Trump again expressed eagerness to relax social distancing measures as soon as possible, claiming falsely that “everybody wants to go back to work.” (Polling indicates that 74 percent of voters actually favor more stringent social distancing measures until the outbreak is under control.)

Trump rested his argument on the dubious claim that the Covid-19 mortality rate “is much, much better [lower] in our way than people were thinking at the beginning. Because we were hearing 3, 4, 5 percent.”

But what Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that the mortality rate is likely to spike if health care professionals get sick themselves because they don’t have proper protective gear, or if hospitals don’t have enough ventilators to treat everyone. In this way, he fundamentally doesn’t get how public health crises work, and seems unwilling to get informed.

So instead of doing all he can to provide potentially lifesaving help to states, Trump is passing the buck to private businesses while urging governors to fend for themselves. That’s produced a world in which states bid against one another for needed supplies, and in the process drive up prices.

That approach could result in preventable deaths in places like New York and Michigan, where hospitals have already developed protocols for rationing ventilators. Trump, however, seems to view that as the cost of doing business with Democratic governors who have dared to criticize his administration’s flailing coronavirus response.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.