Trump skips mask in plant visit, de­fy­ing Ford’s re­quest and Michi­gan law

The Washington Post - - THE CORONAVIRU­S PANDEMIC - BY ANNE GEARAN anne.gearan@wash­ Allyson Chiu and John Wag­ner con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Pres­i­dent Trump de­clined to wear a pro­tec­tive face mask in pub­lic Thurs­day dur­ing a visit to a Ford man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Michi­gan that is turn­ing out ven­ti­la­tors and masks for use in the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, de­spite a re­quest from the car­maker that he wear one and an ex­ec­u­tive or­der from the state’s Demo­cratic gov­er­nor re­quir­ing them.

Ford Mo­tor Co. ex­ec­u­tives wore masks as they led the pres­i­dent on a tour, in ac­cor­dance with com­pany pol­icy, but Trump said it was “not nec­es­sary here.” He sug­gested the is­sue is sym­bolic, but not in the lead-by-ex­am­ple man­ner his crit­ics say he should view it.

In­stead, Trump — who pub­licly prizes strength and sym­bols of mas­culin­ity in­clud­ing height, firm hand­shakes and deep voices — sug­gested he con­sid­ers it un­seemly or un­pres­i­den­tial to be seen in a mask. Trump said he had worn a mask in an­other area of the plant, “where they pre­ferred it,” but de­clined to wear one in view of the cam­eras.

“I didn’t want to give the press the plea­sure of see­ing it,” Trump said.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D- Calif.) later shared a photo of Trump wear­ing a mask at the plant on Twit­ter. “OMG! He ac­tu­ally wore one,” she wrote.

Masks have be­come em­blem­atic of a cul­tural and in­creas­ingly po­lit­i­cal di­vide over re­stric­tions meant to slow the spread of the coro­n­avirus. Scream­ing mask­less pro­test­ers, some armed, faced off with masked law en­force­ment of­fi­cers in­side the Michi­gan Capi­tol last month. A con­fronta­tion be­tween a calm Costco em­ployee and a shop­per in Colorado who re­fused to wear a mask “be­cause I woke up in a free coun­try” went vi­ral on­line this week.

Trump is en­cour­ag­ing the quick end to re­stric­tions on move­ment and com­merce amid a steep eco­nomic de­cline, in­clud­ing the high­est un­em­ploy­ment in decades, mak­ing masks part of a time pe­riod he is try­ing to leave be­hind.

“And now we’re go­ing to turn it back on like never be­fore,” Trump said in a speech on the fac­tory floor.

“A per­ma­nent lock­down is not a strat­egy for a healthy state or a healthy coun­try,” Trump said, re­fer­ring to stay-at-home or­ders in place through­out much of the coun­try. “Our coun­try wasn’t meant to be shut down.”

Ford had ini­tially re­quested that Trump wear a mask dur­ing his visit to the Raw­sonville man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Ypsilanti Town­ship, but then said ear­lier this week that it was up to the White House. Fol­low­ing Trump’s visit Thurs­day, the com­pany is­sued a state­ment say­ing that while Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man Bill Ford had asked Trump to wear a mask, the choice was Trump’s. The pres­i­dent did wear a mask while view­ing his­tor­i­cal cars out of the view of cam­eras, the com­pany said.

Com­pany pol­icy main­tains that vis­i­tors wear pro­tec­tive equip­ment or gar­ments such as masks.

For re­porters, Trump held up a navy blue cloth mask like those worn by many White House staffers. He also wore a clear plas­tic face shield at one point dur­ing the tour at the plant, which nor­mally makes car bat­ter­ies.

Trump is tested for the coro­n­avirus daily, which he says means he does not need to wear a mask. Trump had said ear­lier Thurs­day that he “tested per­fectly this morn­ing, mean­ing — mean­ing I tested neg­a­tive.”

He has pre­vi­ously said that while he sup­ported pub­lic health rec­om­men­da­tions for face masks as an ef­fec­tive way to pre­vent trans­mis­sion of the virus, he did not plan to wear one be­cause it would be un­seemly, es­pe­cially in the Oval Of­fice.

Ahead of the trip, the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral im­plored him to wear a face mask on his tour, cit­ing a “le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

“While my Depart­ment will not act to pre­vent you from tour­ing Ford’s plant, I ask that while you are on tour you re­spect the great ef­forts of the men and women at Ford — and across this State — by wear­ing a fa­cial cov­er­ing,” Michi­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral Dana Nes­sel (D) wrote in an open let­ter ad­dressed to Trump.

Af­ter Trump’s visit, Nes­sel said on CNN that the pres­i­dent is no longer wel­come in the state af­ter de­fy­ing Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der that re­quires a mask in an en­closed pub­lic space: “He is a petu­lant child who re­fuses to fol­low the rules.”

The pres­i­dent was not wear­ing a mask when he walked off Air Force One at the Detroit air­port, nor when he ar­rived at the plant near Ypsilanti. His first pub­lic re­marks there made clear that the visit, his third in as many weeks to a bat­tle­ground state, was partly about talking up his re­sponse to the covid-19 pan­demic and at­tempt­ing to turn the page on the on­go­ing pan­demic.

Ap­pear­ing mask­less with a group of African Amer­i­can business and com­mu­nity lead­ers, Trump said his pan­demic re­sponse had made gov­er­nors “look good,” but claimed that some Demo­cratic gov­er­nors now think it is good pol­i­tics to keep their states on lock­down.

“Our coun­try’s com­ing back,” Trump said in re­sponse to ques­tions from re­porters. “We did the right thing” in im­pos­ing var­i­ous pre­cau­tions against the spread of the virus, “but we now want to get go­ing.”

Trump spoke in front of a ban­ner pro­claim­ing “Tran­si­tion to Great­ness,” his new ral­ly­ing cry for re­cov­ery af­ter the lay­offs, business clo­sures, sales slumps and other eco­nomic ef­fects of the pan­demic. In prac­tice, it means call­ing for an end to stay-at-home poli­cies like the one in Michi­gan that has been a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus for Trump. He has en­cour­aged armed protests against the re­stric­tions, tweeted “LIBERATE MICHI­GAN” and crit­i­cized Whit­mer (D) di­rectly.

Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date John James was among the few meet­ing par­tic­i­pants wear­ing masks. Oth­ers in­clud­ing Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary Ben Car­son did not.

“If you do come to Wash­ing­ton, you have my ear,” Trump told James, say­ing that “no one knows” James’s op­po­nent, Sen. Gary Peters (D).

Trump’s son Don­ald Trump Jr. vis­ited Michi­gan and raised money for James ear­lier this week.

The pres­i­dent’s pre­vi­ous re­fusals to don a mask in pub­lic, as well as his re­cent travel, have led some of­fi­cials to call on him to “set a bet­ter ex­am­ple” in fight­ing the spread of coro­n­avirus. Among them was the Demo­cratic mayor of Bal­ti­more, who on Thurs­day asked Trump to skip a planned Memo­rial Day ap­pear­ance at that city’s Fort Mchenry mon­u­ment.

Ex­perts have warned that the push to re­open the United States could lead to a sec­ond wave of in­fec­tions across parts of the South and Mid­west. There have been more than 5 mil­lion con­firmed coro­n­avirus cases world­wide, in­clud­ing more than 1.5 mil­lion in the United States.

Trump had been non­com­mit­tal on wear­ing a mask as he spoke with re­porters be­fore leav­ing the White House.

“Well, I don’t know. We’re gonna look at it,” he said. “A lot of peo­ple have asked me that ques­tion.”

As re­porters shouted to be heard above the roar of Marine One, parked on the lawn be­hind Trump, Trump asked one ques­tioner to re­move a mask so as to be heard.

“I can’t hear you. You have your mask on, I can’t hear a word,” Trump said.

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