WASHINGTON – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, D, clashed with President Donald Trump during a conference call with governors on Thursday, pleading with him to take more dramatic action to secure medical supplies for his state as it suffers from the coronavirus pandemic, according to four people familiar with the call.
After Trump told governors that his administration was ready to be the “backup” for states in crisis, Inslee spoke up and said to the president, “We don’t need a backup. We need a Tom Brady,” a reference to the legendary Super Bowl-winning quarterback who has been friendly with president, said the people familiar with the exchange with the president who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private conference call.
Inslee, they added, also alluded to the Defense Production Act and said Washington state needs businesses to be more than encouraged to produce items such as masks and ventilators – they need a federal mandate to force them to act. He said the Pentagon needed to make immediate moves to prod defense companies to provide materials. A nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, has been associated with at least 37 deaths from the coronavirus.
Trump was defensive of his efforts, two of the people added, and told Inslee that he and the federal government have done much for Washington and other states in recent days, and ticked off several things his administration has done.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Speaking to reporters in Washington after the call, Inslee said of the discussion with Trump: “I am not going to go into great detail, but I will say that I told them that the states should not be competing against each other. We are grateful for their assistance in what they have provided so far.”
The exchange was the latest flash point as tensions rise between Trump and some local officials over his leadership during the coronavirus outbreak, as some states see a spiraling numbers of cases and deaths during the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Trump called Inslee a “snake.”
“I told 1/8Vice President Mike Pence 3/8 not to be complimentary of the governor because that governor is a snake,” Trump said of Inslee. “And if you’re nice to him, he will take advantage.”
Inslee was not the only governor to sound the alarm, according to one person briefed on the call, with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, D, raising a range of issues as New Orleans and his state brace for turmoil with the number of cases and deaths rising.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, spoke first for the governors on the call as head of the National Governors Association. He made a plea for Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., to get their own testing site facility since the region is home to so much of the workforce that keeps the federal government running, according to people familiar with the call. A White House official said that was in the works.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D, voiced objection to the federal relief package that treats the District as a territory. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, D, a physician, asked Deborah Birx for her best- and worst-case scenarios. The White House’s coronavirus response coordinator said she was still looking at modeling, people familiar with the call said.
The personal protective equipment shortage for health care workers was the biggest concern expressed by governors, who said they believed the country needed a federal response so the state’s aren’t competing with each other for medical supplies.
Other moments of note included when Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, R, voiced concern about the state’s first positive test from a nursing home, , the people familiar with the call said. Meanwhile, Gov. Henry McMaster, R-S.C., a Trump ally, told the president that small businesses cannot sustain too much more of the shutdown, aides said.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, R, told the president he appreciated him realizing that some states have worse situations than others and that parts of the country could reopen, people familiar with the call said.
Trump referred to the situation as “crazy” and said that the country has got to get back open for business.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, the last governor to speak, urged the president to work with governors, saying that as administrators of their states, they are “not political.” Trump appeared to like Cuomo’s comments and thanked him.
Cuomo has been critical of the administration’s response but has also gone out of his way not to antagonize Trump as he seeks to secure as much federal help for his state as possible.
Earlier on Thursday, Trump sent a letter to the country’s governors advising them that his administration is developing “new guidelines” that can be used at the state and local level for determining the type of social distancing measures to be put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The guidelines will categorize each county in the country as low-risk, medium-risk or high-risk, Trump said.
In the letter, he said Americans are “hoping the day will soon arrive” when they can return to their normal lives.
“In furtherance of this shared goal, my Administration is working to publish new guidelines for State and local policymakers to use in making decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place,” Trump wrote.
The letter comes as public health officials have warned that prematurely reopening the country’s economy could exacerbate the spread of the virus. Trump has said that he would like to see the economy restarted by Easter, April 12.
The Washington Post’s Ovetta Wiggins, Seung Min Kim and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.
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