President TrumpDonald John TrumpDefense industrial base workers belong at home during this public health crisis Maduro pushes back on DOJ charges, calls Trump ‘racist cowboy’ House leaders hope to vote Friday on coronavirus stimulus MORE said Friday that White House trade adviser Peter Navarro would become the national Defense Production Act policy coordinator for the federal government as the administration seeks to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump made the announcement at an afternoon press conference at the White House, saying he gave Navarro the new authorities when he signed an executive order earlier that day.
“My order establishes that Peter will serve as national Defense Production Act policy coordinator for the federal government,” Trump told reporters.
Navarro has been one of the driving forces behind Trump’s protectionist trade agenda. He has consistently pushed the president to impose crushing tariffs on China and the European Union, feuding with Trump’s free-trade leaning advisers and Republican lawmakers along the way.
Navarro has also been one of the chief proponents of Trump’s proposed tariffs on foreign automobiles, which have been fiercely opposed by U.S. carmakers now under pressure from the president to step up medical supply production.
The news came after Trump used the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to produce ventilators to help combat the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 100,000 people in the United States.
Trump last week signed the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that would give him the authority to force companies to produce critical supplies, but up until Friday had maintained that he didn’t need to invoke the act to compel U.S. companies because signing it was enough to pressure them to ramp up producing equipment.
But on Friday Trump said he had abandoned negotiations with GM and decided to invoke the Defense Production Act to compel the company to produce ventilators, alleging the company was “wasting time.”
Asked about the decision at Friday’s press conference, Trump said he initially had a deal with GM to produce 40,000 ventilators but the company later said it would produce 6,000 and took an issue with the price.
“Peter Navarro is going to handle that and Peter will do a very good job,” the president said. “Maybe they’ll change their tune, but we didn’t want to play games with them.”
Trump also expressed grievances against GM for building plants outside of the United States.
“I wasn’t happy where General Motors built plants over the years,” Trump said.
GM first invoked Trump’s rage when the company announced in November 2018 that it would close an auto assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, among four other North American factories, something that the president mentioned on Friday.
Ohio is among the most crucial states in Trump’s winning 2016 electoral coalition, and the Lordstown plant’s closure cut against the president’s pledge to boost the number of U.S. automaking jobs.
After intense pressure from Trump and lawmakers in both parties, GM sold the Lordstown plant in November 2019 to an electric truck start-up. Trump hailed the deal when the details first emerged in May of that year, also praising the company for further planned investments in the state.