Political News

Fact check: Trump claimed he was left 'no ventilators.' His administration just confirmed he had more than 16,000

Posted June 24, 2020 1:00 p.m. EDT

— President Donald Trump's administration has confirmed that Trump has been wildly inaccurate when he has claimed he inherited "no ventilators" from the Obama administration.

Ventilator figures released for the first time by the Department of Health and Human Services this week definitively debunk Trump's narrative about how his team was left "empty cupboards" in the national stockpile.

A spokesperson for the department said there were 16,660 ventilators available in the stockpile in March for immediate use -- far more than the 10,760 ventilators the Trump administration has actually ended up distributing during the coronavirus pandemic as of Tuesday.

And those 16,660 available ventilators "did not include any acquired by the current administration," the spokesperson said, speaking on behalf of the department but on condition of anonymity. The total number of ventilators available for immediate use in January 2017, when Trump took office, "would not have been much different" than the 16,660 available in March of this year, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said an additional 2,425 ventilators were in maintenance in March, putting the total at 19,085.

"In general, prior to March of this year, the (stockpile) stored approximately 19,000 ventilators in its inventory for many years, and this number fluctuated on any given day depending on the number of ventilators in scheduled maintenance," the spokesperson said.

The figures were originally reported on Monday by FactCheck.org. The spokesperson sent the same information to CNN on Wednesday.

The Trump administration had not previously released numbers about ventilators in the stockpile either when the pandemic started or when Trump took office.

Busting a Trump narrative

Trump has claimed, over and over again, that the US is now "the king of ventilators" even though he alleges the Obama administration left him nothing.

"When we took over, we didn't have ventilators. Nobody knew what a ventilator was," he said on Fox Business on May 14.

"If you remember where we started, we had no ventilators," he said in the White House Rose Garden on May 15.

"...And we didn't have ventilators when we started. The cupboards were empty. The previous administration left us empty cupboards," he said in the Rose Garden on June 5.

We knew that claim was false even before the Trump administration released the numbers this week. Journalists personally saw ventilators in stockpile facilities during tours in 2016, as FactCheck.org previously noted.

And Richard Branson, a professor at the University of Cincinnati's medical school and editor of the medical journal Respiratory Care, told CNN in May that more than 18,000 ventilators had been purchased for the stockpile between 2000 and 2016 -- including more than 14,000 under President Barack Obama -- and that none of them had been deployed before the coronavirus crisis.

Branson said he could tell from the appearance of ventilator boxes being distributed during the pandemic that they were the ventilators purchased under Obama.

Ventilator purchases

Many health experts and politicians feared in March that the US would face a shortage of ventilators during the coronavrius pandemic, sending the Trump administration scrambling to acquire more.

So far, though, there have not been shortages. Trump has boasted that the US has been able to send surplus ventilators to other countries.

The government spokesperson said Wednesday that contracts signed by the administration during the pandemic "will produce more than 180,000 ventilators" to be delivered to the stockpile, for use in this crisis and any future public health emergency.

Branson, the University of Cincinnati professor, argued Wednesday that the administration is buying "far too many ventilators," spending money that could be used on other critical needs.

"The cost of taking care of them every year is going to be astronomical. It's going to be a third of what it costs to purchase them," he said.

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