President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden amped up their ongoing spat over wearing face masks in public on Tuesday with Biden calling the president an “absolute fool” for stoking controversy around the use of masks.
The beef began Monday evening, when the president retweeted an image that appeared to mock Biden wearing a mask in his first public appearance in months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public. Biden today,” Fox News political analyst Brit Hume wrote in the tweet. Alongside the tweet was a close up of Biden, with most of his face covered by a black mask, wearing his signature aviator sunglasses, during a visit to a Delaware memorial for U.S. military personnel.
While Trump didn’t add his own comment to the retweet, the president has been accused of stoking a culture war over the kind of face coverings now recommended — but not required — by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Several weeks ago, when two White House aides tested positive for the virus, masks became mandatory in the West Wing for nearly everyone — except the president. Trump has repeatedly eschewed masks on his growing number of public outings. Instead, he said he is taking a malaria drug that is not proven to treat or prevent coronavirus.
Trump finally donned a face mask for the first time last week when he visited a Ford plant in Michigan where masks are required, though he only wore his mask in private, telling the press traveling with him that he didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of seeing him wear it.
Biden had sharp words for the president over what he called a lack of leading by example, accusing Trump of “stoking deaths.”
“He’s a fool, an absolute fool to talk that way,” Biden told CNN’s Dana Bash in his first in-person interview since having to hit pause on traditional campaigning due to the virus. “I mean every leading doc in the world is saying you should wear a mask when you’re in a crowd, and especially when you know you’re going to be in a position where you’re going to inadvertently get closer than 12 feet to somebody.”
He accused Trump of caving to “macho stuff,” the argument advanced by some opposed to wearing masks that doing so is a sign of weakness. “That’s not going to increase the likelihood that people are going to be better off,” he added later.
Asked Tuesday how he viewed wearing a face covering, Biden said he believes doing so projects “leadership.”
Trump insisted Tuesday that he hadn’t intended to criticize Biden’s mask, calling it “very unusual” that the former vice president and his presumptive election rival decided to wear one while out “with his wife” in “perfect conditions, perfect weather” and that Biden doesn’t wear a face covering while indoors with his wife. According to the CDC’s recommendations for face coverings, masks aren’t needed while at home.
“Biden can wear a mask,” Trump said. “I wasn’t criticizing him. Why would I ever do a thing like that?”
Immediately afterward, Trump accused the reporter who asked the question of attempting to be “politically correct” for declining to remove his own mask after the president said he couldn’t hear properly.
Hours earlier, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had also insisted that the president wasn’t “shaming anyone” with his retweet, but like Trump, called it “peculiar” that Biden wore a mask for his Memorial Day outing despite already being socially distant. The CDC, along with members of Trump’s coronavirus task force, have emphasized that face coverings are meant to supplement, not replace social distancing.
“As the president noted himself said he wore this mask in private at the Ford facility and he said he’s open to it if the circumstance mandates it,” McEnany said. “It didn’t strike him as a very data driven in that particular instance.”