Trump Resists Pressure to Force Companies to Make Coronavirus Supplies

“I need to understand how you’re triaging supplies,” Ms. Noem said. “We, for two weeks, were requesting reagents for our public health lab from C.D.C., who pushed us to private suppliers who kept canceling orders on us. And we kept making requests, placing orders.”

She added: “I don’t want to be less of a priority because we’re a smaller state or less populated.”

Mr. Trump promised her that would “never” happen before Ms. Noem’s telephone line was disconnected.

The Defense Production Act, passed by Congress in 1950 at the outset of the Korean War, granted President Truman the power to spur the production of aluminum, titanium and other needed materials during wartime. Since then, it has been used for both the prevention of terrorism and to prepare for natural disasters.

The act would give the administration the authority to override companies’ existing contracts, and direct supplies to hot spots like New York City or Seattle. It could also help mobilize funds for retooling factories, refitting pharmacy drive-throughs into testing sites, and ramping up production of an eventual vaccine.

This week, as Mr. Trump announced that he was invoking the act should he need it, he referred to himself as “in a sense, a wartime president.”

Yet Mr. Trump has hesitated to take the kind of actions necessary in wartime.

Not all of Mr. Trump’s advisers subscribe to the theory that the federal government should be as hands-off as possible. Some of his aides believe there needs to be a shift toward using the law and have suggested this to the president.

As the threat of the coronavirus has worsened, officials leading the Trump administration’s response have resisted setting priorities in favor of letting private companies determine their own roles, a stance that has confounded Mr. Trump’s critics but which officials say is a small-government approach that the president’s advisers prefer.

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