Coronavirus response: What is the Defense Production Act?

WASHINGTON -- President Trump has sowed further confusion about whether he is using the powers of the Defense Production Act to force American businesses to manufacture needed medical supplies amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

During a phone call with Trump on Friday, Sen. Chick Schumer said he specifically implored the president to invoke the Korean War-era act to ramp up production desperately needed ventilators and other gear.

Schumer said Trump told the Democratic leader he would do it - and then could be heard yelling to someone in his office "get it done."

But Trump told reporters he had put the order he invoked Wednesday "into gear" Thursday night. He said had directed companies to launch production. But then he also walked it back, saying, "You know, so far, we haven't had to" because companies are volunteering."

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The purpose of Defense Production Act is to boost private industry production of supplies needed during a national emergency, such as a health crisis. The legislation was signed by President Harry Truman amid concerns about manpower and equipment during the Korean War. It's been invoked multiple times since during emergencies, including blackouts, war and hurricanes.

The act allows the president to require companies to prioritize government contracts and orders seen as necessary for the national defense, and to allocate the distribution of materials.

The goal is to make sure the private sector is producing enough goods needed to meet a war effort or other national emergency.

The number of cases is rapidly rising, creating an urgent need for medical supplies like masks for health care workers, as well as ventilators, gloves and eye protectors.

President Trump says his administration has ordered "millions of masks, but we need millions more."
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