US President Donald Trump moved to blame his Democratic competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden, for not instituting a national mask mandate during the coronavirus pandemic.
The claim, made at an ABC News town hall Tuesday with undecided voters in Pennsylvania, is misleading for two reasons: Biden has, in fact, urged all state governors to mandate mask-wearing to slow the spread of Covid-19. The Democratic candidate is also not the president and has no authority to mandate anything. Trump does.
Julie Bart asked the president why he hadn’t instituted a national mask mandate during the height of the pandemic and why he had largely refused to wear facial coverings even as the nation’s top medical officials urged the public to do so.
After Pres. Trump claims “a lot of people think the masks are not good,” @GStephanopoulos asks: “Who are those people?”
“Waiters,” Trump responds, saying he’s seen servers constantly touching their face masks.
— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020
“Well, I do wear them when I have to and when I’m in hospitals and other locations,” Trump said. “But I will say this. They said at the Democrat convention they’re going to do a national mandate. They never did it, because they’ve checked out and they didn’t do it. And a good question is, you ask why Joe Biden ― they said we’re going to do a national mandate on masks.”
Biden addressed the claim just moments after it aired:
To be clear: I am not currently president. But if you chip in now, we can change that in November
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 16, 2020
Trump went on to say “a lot of people think the masks are not good” and said health officials, including Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, were hesitant to push masks during the early days of the pandemic. That claim is misleading as medical officials have since learned much more about Covid-19 and the spread of infection, and as the shortage of medical-grade masks for health professionals has dissipated. Fauci has since urged for “universal wearing of masks.”
Trump maintained at Tuesday’s town hall that his administration had succeeded in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, saying he didn’t think he could have done more to prevent the virus that has killed nearly 200,000 people and infected more than 6.6 million in the US.
“Could you have done more to stop it?” ABC News host George Stephanopoulos asked.
“I don’t think so,” Trump replied. “I think what I did by closing up the country, I think I saved two, maybe two and a half, maybe more than that lives. I really don’t think so. I think we did a very good job.”
Addressing claims made to journalist Bob Woodward earlier this year that he had actively downplayed the threat of the coronavirus despite knowing how dangerous it was, Trump said he didn’t do that and, in fact, had cast the virus as more serious.
“I didn’t downplay it,” Trump said during the town hall. “I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action. My action was very strong.”
In a special @ABC2020, Pres. Trump disputes uncommitted voter who asked why he downplayed a virus that has disproportionately affected communities of color: “I up-played it, in terms of action. My action was very strong.”
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 16, 2020
Despite those assertions, Trump stood by false claims that Covid-19 would merely go away.
“It is going to disappear. It’s going to disappear, I still say it,” Trump said. “We’re not going to have studios like this, where you have all of this empty space in between. I want to see people, and you want to see people. I want to see football games. I’m pushing very hard for Big Ten, I want to see Big Ten open ― let the football games ― let them play sports.
“But, no. It’s going to disappear, George.”