Pence Visits Wisconsin Plant Making Ventilators Amid Coronavirus Response Criticism

Apr 22, 2020

Republican Vice President Mike Pence is praising some Wisconsin union workers and offering optimism about the COVID-19 pandemic. But Democrats say the Trump administration is falling short on help for the state.

On Tuesday, Pence toured a GE Healthcare plant in Madison that has dramatically increased production of ventilators in recent weeks. Those machines help people with severe breathing problems, including many COVID-19 patients.

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Pence began his visit talking with individual employees who explained parts of the manufacturing process. A product manager Jay Hanrahan told Pence he was "super-excited'' to be ramping up production.

"It's with a sense of mission that we're delivering these from Madison, Wisconsin, to caregivers throughout the United States. Thank you for your support," Hanrahan said.

Pence responded by including a mention of the hundreds of production workers in the plant.

"GE Healthcare and union machinists here are saving lives. There's no question. Thanks for not waiting to be asked. Thanks for stepping up and leaning in," Pence said.

About a month ago, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers who work at the Madison plant agreed to a one-year emergency contract extension that allowed GE to bring in some employees from other company locations and make ventilators round the clock. In return, the union says it received some financial gains.

Machinists Union official Alex Hoekstra says he agrees with the vice president that the production workers have proven their worth. But the Machinists Union recently endorsed Democrat Joe Biden for president, and Hoekstra isn't backing away from the former vice president.

"Our membership think he's the right candidate, and that's really the most important issue," Hoekstra said. "Biden has a strong track record with unions. We think he's a proven candidate and one who can turn this country back around."

Hoekstra declines to say whether he thinks the Pence visit was partly aimed at drawing some of the union rank and file to the GOP this fall.

The incumbent vice president's other main message seemed to be reassurance about the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Together, we will meet this moment. We will, I believe with all of my heart, reach that day, someday soon, when we can put the coronavirus in the past," Pence said.

But Democrats who held a conference call Tuesday say the Trump administration isn't giving enough help to states like Wisconsin. House member Mark Pocan, of the Madison area, cited federal figures on COVID-19 test kids the state requested.

"We asked for 60,000 test kits. They say they shipped three," Pocan said. "Now, we don't know if that means three individual, or three of some quantity, but we know it was not the 60,000 we requested. Where the hell is the federal response for places like Wisconsin?"

The Trump administration says the supply numbers are better than the Congressman claims. But Pocan says the White House is taking credit for items Wisconsin bought from the private sector.

Other figures released Tuesday are not in dispute. The state says COVID-19 has killed more than 240 Wisconsin residents and the number of confirmed cases of the disease in the state now tops 4,600.

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.

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