US president Donald Trump has vowed to bring pharmaceutical manufacturing back to the United States as he pledged to put "America first" during a factory visit on Thursday.
Addressing workers at a medical distribution facility in Pennsylvania, Mr Trump said he would bring “manufacturing and jobs back home where they belong”.
“My goal is to produce everything America needs for ourselves and then export to the world. This includes pharmaceuticals,” he said. “Too reliant on other countries. I’ve been saying that for a long time . . . We have to take care of America first.”
Standing beneath an American flag , Mr Trump said that his administration believes in “two beautiful rules – buy American and hire American.”
Mr Trump was speaking during a visit to the factory that produces and distributes medical devices in Allentown.
Pennsylvania, which voted for Mr Trump in the 2016 election, is likely to be a key battleground state in November’s presidential election.
Mr Trump has argued in recent weeks that supply chains should be returned to the United States as the Covid-19 pandemic has shed a light on America’s dependence on other countries for pharmaceutical and medical device products.
In addition to China, the president has recently referred to Ireland as a producer of goods that are transported to the US.
Noting the role played by Pennsylvania in American manufacturing in the 20th century, Mr Trump said: “We are claiming our heritage as a nation of manufacturers.”
“We will build our glorious future with American hands, America grit and American pride.”
No face mask
Mr Trump, who was one of the only officials not to wear a face mask during his tour of the facility, also called on the Democratic governor of the state to start lifting Covid-19 restrictions in Pennsylvania, stating that some parts of the state were not affected by coronavirus.
Earlier, the president hit back at claims by the former head of a government health agency that America’s response to the pandemic was undermined by a lack of strategy,
Dr Rick Bright was the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority before he was removed from his post by the Trump administration last month.
Appearing before Congress on Thursday, Dr Bright highlighted a litany of failures by the federal government in the early days of the pandemic.
“It is painfully clear that we were not as prepared as we should have been. We missed early warning signals and we forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook,” he said.
But he also warned that 2020 “could be the darkest winter in modern history”.
“Our window of opportunity is closing if we fail to develop a national co-ordinated response, based in science. I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities,” he told lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Not holding water
The virologist also dismissed the possibility that a vaccine would be ready within 18 months. “Twelve to 18 months is an aggressive schedule, and I think it’s going to take longer than that,” he said under questioning.
Speaking as he left Washington to visit a medical distribution centre in Pennsylvania, Mr Trump dismissed Dr Bright as “nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person”.
“There are a lot of people who do not like the job he did,” he said. “He looks like an angry, disgruntled employee who frankly, according to a number of people, didn’t do a very good job.”
Health and human services secretary Alex Azar, who accompanied Mr Trump on the trip, said that Dr Bright's allegations "do not hold water".
“Everything he’s complaining about was achieved. Everything he talked about was done,” noting the government’s procurement of respirators and stockpiling of equipment.
Mr Bright had “literally signed the application for an FDA authorisation” for hydroxychloroquine, Mr Azar alleged, referring to the anti-malarial drug touted by Mr Trump as a possible treatment for coronavirus.
Criticism of Fauci
Mr Trump’s comments were the latest sign of disagreement between the president and career medical professionals as the United States struggles to emerge from the pandemic which has taken close to 85,000 lives in the country.
Mr Trump publicly criticised White House task force member Dr Anthony Fauci this week for wanting to "play all sides of the equation" by suggesting that a vaccine would not be ready before schools and colleges return for the autumn term.
He said that the response given by Dr Fauci to a Senate committee on the issue was “not an acceptable answer”. Mr Trump has argued that schools should reopen, with exceptions for teachers over a certain age with medical conditions.
Meanwhile, high-profile Republican senator Richard Burr announced he was stepping down temporarily as chair of the Senate intelligence committee amid an FBI investigation into his sale of stocks in February before the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic was known in the United States.
The FBI seized phone records and other documents belonging to the North Carolina senator on Wednesday as part of an investigation into a possible insider trading case.
Mr Burr is one of several members of Congress who have found their personal investment decisions under scrutiny. Investigators are examining whether the senators sold stock on the basis of classified briefings they were receiving at a time when Mr Trump was downplaying the impact of the virus.