President Assures California It Will Get the Supplies It Needs

“The president holds the key to the lock where all the money is,” said a Democratic strategist. “It makes no sense to be at loggerheads with the keeper of the purse, and there are times when it’s just smart to put politics aside.”

by Sophia Bollag and Michael Wilner, The Sacramento Bee / March 19, 2020
California Gov. Gavin Newsom give an update to the state's response to the coronavirus, at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services in Rancho Cordova Calif., Tuesday, March 17, 2020. At left is Mark Ghilarducci, director of the OES. AP

(TNS) -- An hour after Gov. Gavin Newsom got off the phone with President Donald Trump on Tuesday, he talked publicly at a news briefing about the “privilege of a conversation,” and said the president promised more swabs to test for coronavirus.

“We need more swabs... The president assured me, not only assured me, he was aware of where those swabs are being procured before I even offered my own insight,” Newsom said. “Not only is he on top of it, but they’re securing and beginning the process of distributing those swabs.”

In the next sentence, Newsom acknowledged that California’s lack of swabs is impeding officials’ ability to expand drive-up testing sites, a critical step as the state scrambles to slow the spread of the deadly virus that causes COVID-19.

Newsom has repeatedly said he has no criticisms for Trump’s coronavirus response. Yet his state is still waiting on needed equipment from the federal government to run tests and prepare its medical system for a surge in new patients -- equipment the Democratic governor says he’s been requesting for weeks.

It’s a change for now in the relationship between the two men, who have traded insults and sparred over issues from homelessness to water rights.

California has filed more than 70 lawsuits against the Trump administration, many of which Newsom’s office initiated. And Newsom has accused the Trump administration of trying to take funding from California as an act of political retribution.

Trump has often criticized Newsom and the liberal state he governs, but he, too, has changed his tune in recent days, calling his administration’s relationship with California “terrific.” On Tuesday, he singled out Newsom for praise.

“I’m going to work with a number of the governors. Gov. Newsom has been very generous in his words, and I’m being generous to him, too, because we’re all working together very well,” Trump said. “And I think a lot of very positive things have taken place.”

In contrast, Trump has lashed out in recent weeks at other governors under pressure from the crisis, particularly Washington Governor Jay Inslee – whom Trump called a “snake” as the state’s death toll mounted – and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom he criticized on Twitter.

Katie Miller, press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, told McClatchy that Trump and Pence have built a “very strong” working relationship with Newsom over the course of the crisis, exemplified by the frequency with which they are updating one another. Newsom is now speaking by phone with either Trump or Pence on a near-daily basis.

The change in Trump and Newsom’s relationship reflects the magnitude of the crisis they’re both weathering, political experts say.

“We’re way past getting political wins on the board and about getting people the help we need,” said Andrew Acosta, a Democratic strategist in California. “It definitely appears that the president has figured out that this is a national emergency and he’s adjusted his tone and his actions to address it.”

Newsom’s approach also reflects the reality that he needs the president’s help to ensure California has adequate resources during the pandemic.

“The president holds the key to the lock where all the money is,” said Steve Maviglio, a Democratic strategist in California. “It makes no sense to be at loggerheads with the keeper of the purse, and there are times when it’s just smart to put politics aside.”

In addition to testing swabs, Newsom is relying on the federal government to provide more chemical reagents needed to actually run the tests. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided enough kits to California to run thousands of tests, but, without the reagents, many are unusable, Newsom said.

California has called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more ventilators, protective glasses, masks and gowns as supplies in hospitals dwindle. On Wednesday, Newsom described desperate hospital officials asking seamstresses in Los Angeles’ garment district to sew more masks, buying swimming goggles for medical workers and running to hardware stores for more gloves.

“We certainly are going to need more support,” Newsom said.

Newsom says he also asked the president to let California use federal government mobile field hospitals and a Navy medical ship to handle a surge in patients.

The two mobile hospitals can each accommodate nearly 500 patients, while the Navy medical ship can hold 1,000, he said.

Trump said that he and Newsom have also discussed the potential deployment of units from the Army Corps of Engineers to California to help the state retrofit facilities as temporary hospitals. On Wednesday, Trump described efforts to increase swab production and potentially authorize production of a self-swab test that would free up and protect health care workers. He suggested details on that effort could be forthcoming as soon as Thursday from the Food and Drug Administration.

On top of the “massive amount of supplies” Newsom says he’s requested from the Trump administration, he’s also relying on the federal government for relief funding for businesses and workers as shuttered stores and canceled travel plans deflate the economy.

Newsom has repeatedly declined to criticize the president when asked by reporters, including last week when he was questioned about the president’s comment that he didn’t want a cruise ship then stalled off the coast of California to release infected passengers into the country. Newsom said he had a private conversation with Trump that gave him confidence the president would help handle the situation.

“He said everything that I could have hoped for,” Newsom said. “Every single thing he said, they followed through.”

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