Trump says he has put Defense Production Act into gear to fight coronavirus

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses his administration's daily coronavirus task force briefing as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ambassador Debbie Birx listen at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Friday he had put the wartime Defense Production Act into action to aid the fight against coronavirus after saying earlier this week he would invoke the measure when needed.

The measure is meant to allow the U.S. government to speed production of masks, respirators, ventilators and other needed equipment.

Trump said he put the measure into action on Thursday evening. He and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer spoke about the issue in a phone call on Friday.

Asked why he was putting it into action now, the president told reporters it would be used to ensure that U.S. states could get masks and other equipment needed to fight the virus.

“I invoked the Defense Production Act, and last night, we put it into gear,” Trump said.

The president “is currently using it to drive the private-sector’s response to this crisis,” said a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “And the private-sector’s response, to date, to his direction has been overwhelming, fulfilling government-identified needs faster than anyone thought possible,” the official said.

The law, which dates to the Korean War of the 1950s, grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base to support military, energy, space, and homeland security programs,” according to a summary on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Richard Chang and Cynthia Osterman