Jared Kushner would have you believe the Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies wasn’t meant to be the main national resource in the event of a medical crisis — and now, the stockpile’s official website agrees.
It’s an Orwellian twist that shows the lengths to which the Trump administration is going to tell states they need to fend for themselves as the number of coronavirus cases in the US continues to climb with no peak yet in sight.
To back up: Kushner created quite a negative stir with comments he made during Thursday’s White House coronavirus task force press briefing characterizing the Strategic National Stockpile as “our stockpile” instead of “states’ stockpiles that they then use” — remarks at odds with language on the stockpile’s website that described it as a resource for “state, local, tribal, and territorial responders” to obtain “the right medicines and supplies ... during an emergency.”
But within hours of Kushner making those widely decried remarks, language on the stockpile’s website was changed to be in line with the view he espoused about it belonging to the feds but not necessarily the states.
“The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies,” the website now says. “Many states have products stockpiled, as well. The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available.”
The change was first noted by journalist Laura Bassett:
This is what the website for the federal stockpile said yesterday vs what it says today, after Kushner was caught lying about how states aren’t supposed to be using it. It was changed to say, “Many states have products stockpiled, as well.” https://t.co/kbNXiwaJbX pic.twitter.com/xAtPKIyHnA— Laura Bassett (@LEBassett) April 3, 2020
Kushner has been running a coronavirus task force operating in the shadow of the official one overseen by Vice President Mike Pence. His work so far has reportedly been unfruitful. On Tuesday, the New York Times quoted an unnamed senior administration official who described Kushner’s effort as “a ‘frat party’ that descended from a UFO and invaded the federal government” and reported that members of his task force used “the website FreeConferenceCall.com to arrange high-level meetings.” Thursday’s briefing represented a rare public appearance before the media for the president’s son-in-law.
It did not go particularly well. Kushner’s opening statement was so replete with meaningless startup-style jargon that it resembled a Saturday Night Live cold open come to life. At one point, he said the word “data” four times in 20 seconds without ever detailing what all that “data” was being used for.
Here's Jared Kushner going for the world record of most meaningless corporate buzzwords used in a single one-minute video clip pic.twitter.com/Vy1QJEhLQa— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 2, 2020
During the Q&A portion of the briefing, it became clear that the point of Kushner being there in the first place was to contribute to President Trump’s ongoing effort to shift blame for scarcities of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers away from the federal government and onto states.
“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use,” Kushner said.
JARED KUSHNER: "The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be states stockpiles that they then use." pic.twitter.com/9Q7j8QBCMv— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 2, 2020
Kushner’s claim contradicted language on the HHS website detailing the purpose and history of the federal stockpile — but aligned perfectly with the administration’s overall response to the crisis.
As Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) pointed out on Twitter, however, the White House’s new line about the national stockpile appears to be at odds with with federal law stating that “the stockpile ... shall provide assistance ... to maintain and improve State and local public health preparedness capabilities to distribute and dispense medical ... products from the stockpile.”
The Trump administration’s philosophy is that states are mostly on their own
Thursday’s press briefing came amid reports that New York may as soon as next week run out of the ventilators the state needs to treat Covid-19 patients, forcing hospitals to ration care. And it isn’t alone — as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow nationwide, states such as Washington and Michigan are also reportedly running low on ventilators.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has repeatedly pleaded with the federal government to do more to provide states like his with ventilators, as well as decrying the current system in which prices are driven up by states not only bidding against one another for medical supplies but also competing with the federal government.
CUOMO: "How can we be in a position where you can have New Yorkers possibly dying because they can't get a ventilator, but a federal agency saying 'I'm going to leave the ventilators in a stockpile.' I mean, have we really come to that point?" pic.twitter.com/8XqAh99Bka— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 24, 2020
Cuomo has said his state will need 30,000 ventilators to meet the demand, but he reportedly only has 2,200 in the state stockpile. But instead of using all the tools at his disposal to help, Trump has indicated that he doesn’t believe Cuomo actually needs that many. Though Trump later tried to walk back those comments, Kushner is apparently on the same wavelength.
According to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, Kushner described Cuomo as an alarmist during a recent White House meeting. According to an unnamed source who talked to Sherman, Kushner said during the meeting, “I have all this data about ICU capacity. I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators. ... I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.”
Kushner touched on that same I-know-best theme in his comments during Thursday’s briefing, saying at one point that “some governors you speak to, or senators, and they don’t know what’s in their state ... most governors didn’t know off the bat what they needed.”
Trump echoed those comments, saying “the states should have building their stockpiles ... we’re a backup. We’re not an ordering clerk.”
The whole point of the federal stockpile is to help the states
Despite what Kushner would have you believe, the entire purpose of the Strategic National Stockpile is to help states obtain resources they don’t have the means to acquire themselves during crises. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake detailed the background:
The Strategic National Stockpile was formerly known as the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile. In a description of what was then known as the NPS in 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that states couldn’t be counted on to have sufficient supplies in situations such as biological or chemical terrorism and that’s why the federal stockpile was needed.
“Few U.S. state or local governments have the resources to create sufficient pharmaceutical stockpiles on their own,” the report says. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, under U.S. Congressional mandate, has developed and implemented a National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (NPS) to address this need.”
In other words, the program was designed to supplement the states and deliver supplies to them that, according to this U.S. government document, they won’t have because of budgetary constraints.
Trump, however, has made abundantly clear he thinks it’s up to states like New York to fend for themselves.
“Long before this pandemic arrived, they should have been on the open market just buying,” he claimed on Thursday.
"Long before this pandemic arrived, they should have been on the open market just buying" -- Trump tries to shift blame for medical gear shortages to the states pic.twitter.com/vtw3xDC3o6— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 2, 2020
Thursday’s briefing came amid growing concerns that Trump is playing politics by being accommodating with requests for supplies made by Republican governors who support him but less so when requests come from people like Cuomo, whom he doesn’t see as on his side and who govern states that aren’t crucial to his reelection hopes.
Judging from his performance on Thursday, Kushner’s role seems to provide an intellectual gloss on things. But to hear New York doctor Craig Spencer tell it, Kushner would be better served visiting an ICU like the one he works in instead of tinkering with models meant to prove that New York is asking for more than it needs.
“If you’re not stepping foot in a hospital, if you don’t have a visual of what’s going on, then you can understand all the high-level modeling necessary to get the right amount of ventilators or the concerns about supply chains or PPE, but to stand by when [Trump’s] implication is that ‘maybe we don’t need all those ventilators,’ or ‘maybe the ICUs aren’t filling up’ ... that’s not our lived reality on a day-to-day basis,” Spencer told Vox on Tuesday, right after he finished his shift working at Columbia University hospital in Manhattan.
“The first two patients I saw were [in] cardiac arrest from coronavirus. We couldn’t move one out of the room fast enough to get the other one in,” Spencer added. “That’s the reality.”
The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.