A chorus of governors from both parties pushed back hard on Monday after President Donald Trump accused Democrats of playing “a very dangerous political game” by insisting there was a shortage of tests for coronavirus.
It came as Mr Trump also said he would sign an executive order “to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States” because of the coronavirus, while offering no further details.
After the president’s warnings to them, the governors countered that the White House must do more to help states conduct the testing required before they can ease up on stay-at-home orders.
Kansas Democratic governor Laura Kelly said the current federal effort “really is not good enough if we’re going to be able to start to open our economy. We cannot do that safely without the tests in place”.
The needs range from basic supplies like swabs and protective gear to highly specialised laboratory chemicals needed to analyse patient results.
Hospitals, laboratories and state health departments report scouring the globe to secure orders, competing against each other and their peers abroad.
The governors’ plea for stepped-up coordination came Monday when the Trump administration again provided discordant messaging: Trump blasted state leaders on Twitter for being too dependent on the federal government and later said some governors simply did not understand what they had, while Vice President Mike Pence assured governors the government was working around-the-clock to help them ramp up testing.
Mr Pence sought to soften the administration’s message amid growing clamour from both parties for a national testing strategy to help secure testing swabs, chemical reagents and other crucial supplies.
“When it comes to testing, we’re here to help,” Mr Pence told governors during a video conference from the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Associated Press obtained audio of the call.
Mr Pence said the administration sent each state a detailed list on Monday of testing capacity.
But Maryland Republican governor Larry Hogan said much of the unused lab machinery listed for his state was in federal labs to which the state did not have access.
Mr Pence said the administration had agreed to open up federal labs to help states.
Mr Hogan announced on Monday that the state had received 500,000 tests from South Korea — a “game-changing” deal negotiated by his wife, Yumi Hogan, who grew up outside Seoul.
“They want the states to take the lead, and we have to go out and do it ourselves, and so that’s exactly what we did,” Mr Hogan said.
Mr Trump did not take that lying down. In his daily briefing, he said some governors have “more capacity than they understand”.
“The governor of Maryland could have called Mike Pence, could have saved a lot of money,” Mr Trump said.
“I don’t think he needed to go to South Korea. He needed to get a little knowledge.”
In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2020
In Ohio, Republican governor Mike DeWine said his state was working with another federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration, to find a source of reagent, the chemical used to analyse test results.
Democratic Montana governor Steve Bullock said his state received 5,000 nasal swabs on Monday from FEMA — evidence the federal government was listening. But he added, “It doesn’t get us far enough”.
In New York, Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo said states should take the lead on testing but it was up to the federal government to help sort out supply chain issues facing testing manufacturers.
As Mr Pence spoke with the governors, Mr Trump took to Twitter with a more combative tone than his deputy, complaining that the “radical left” and “Do Nothing Democrats” were playing politics with their complaints about a lack of tests.
“Now they scream … ‘Testing, Testing, Testing,’ again playing a very dangerous political game,” Mr Trump tweeted. “States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing – But we will work with the Governors and get it done.”
Last month all you heard from the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats was, âVentilators, Ventilators, Ventilators.â They screamed it loud & clear, & thought they had us cold, even though it was the Stateâs task. But everyone got their Vâs, with many to spare. Now they scream....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2020
... âTesting, Testing, Testing,â again playing a very dangerous political game. States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing - But we will work with the Governors and get it done. This is easy compared to the fast production of thousands of complex Ventilators!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2020
Public health experts say the US needs to dramatically increase its testing infrastructure if it is going to safely roll back restrictions and reopen businesses without risking a major spike in infections.
Meanwhile, the White House did not immediately elaborate on Mr Trump’s tweet declaring he would suspend immigration.
The president tweeted: “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”
He offered no details as to what immigration programs might be affected by the order.
Mr Trump has taken credit for his restrictions on travel to the US from China and hard-hit European countries, arguing it contributed to slowing the spread of the virus in the US.
But he has yet to extend those restrictions to other nations now experiencing virus outbreaks.
Due to the pandemic, almost all visa processing by the State Department, including immigrant visas, has been suspended for weeks.