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Trump has ‘legal’ and ‘moral responsibility’ to wear mask on Ford plant tour, Michigan attorney general says

President Trump speaks at an event in the Rose Garden at the White House on May 15. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Ahead of President Trump’s planned trip Thursday to a Ford manufacturing plant in Michigan, the state’s attorney general implored him to wear a face mask on his tour, citing a “legal responsibility” — and said he would be asked not to return if he does not do so.

In an open letter addressed to Trump, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) asked the president, who has consistently appeared barefaced in public and at the White House, to adhere to executive orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Ford’s policy mandating masks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Trump is scheduled to visit a factory southwest of Detroit that has been repurposed to manufacture ventilators.

“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,” Nessel wrote. “It is not just the policy of Ford, by virtue of the Governor’s Executive Orders. It is currently the law of this State.”

Asked during an appearance Thursday morning on CNN what she would do if Trump doesn’t comply, Nessel voiced some skepticism about whether he would.

“If we’ve learned nothing over the last several years of President Trump in the White House, it’s that he doesn’t have the same level of legal accountability as everybody else,” Nessel said. “Honestly, if he fails to wear a mask, he’s going to be asked not to return to any enclosed facilities inside our state.”

She added: “I think we’re going to take action against any company or any facility that allows him inside those facilities and puts our workers at risk. We simply can’t afford it here in our state.”

A Ford spokesperson told the Associated Press earlier this week that the company informed the White House that it requires everyone in factories to wear masks. But the spokesperson noted, “The White House has its own safety and testing policies in place and will make its own determination,” leaving unanswered the question of whether Trump will cover his face Thursday.

Trump has been noncommittal about wearing a mask to the factory.

“I don’t know,” he said Tuesday when asked whether he would don a mask in light of the company’s policy. “It depends. I mean, you know, in certain areas, I would. In certain areas, I don’t. But I will certainly look at it.”

A memo distributed May 11 instructed most White House officials to wear masks or face coverings in the West Wing to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. (Video: Reuters)

He added that his decision would be contingent on the situation.

“Am I standing right next to everybody or am I spread out?” Trump said. “And also … you know, is something a hospital? Is it a ward? … What is it exactly? I’m going to a plant. So we’ll see. Where it’s appropriate, I would do it, certainly.”

Trump’s comments did not appear to reassure Nessel, who in Wednesday’s letter stressed that Michigan has been “hit especially hard by the virus.” As of early Thursday, the state had more than 53,000 reported cases and about 5,000 deaths. Nessel noted that the coronavirus reached the White House earlier this month, when a military valet to Trump and Vice President Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive.

“Anyone who has potentially been recently exposed, including the President of the United States, has not only a legal responsibility, but also a social and moral responsibility, to take reasonable precautions to prevent further spread of the virus,” Nessel wrote.

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If Trump does put on a mask Thursday for the tour, it would be the first time he is seen on camera wearing one in public.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who represents the district that includes the Ford plant, also urged Trump to wear a face covering.

“Leaders need to lead,” she said during an appearance on CNN on Thursday. “I hope the president will follow the protocols, because people will see the importance of wearing those masks. It matters.”

Asked why Trump might be reluctant, Dingell said, “Some people see wearing a mask as a sign of weakness.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the widespread use of masks for weeks. Yet Trump has been spotted barefaced on a number of occasions this month, most notably during a tour of a mask-making plant in Arizona and while visiting a medical supply distribution center in Pennsylvania. Trump is also not expected to wear a face covering in the White House, despite the recent implementation of a strict mask policy there, The Washington Post reported.

President Trump visited a face mask factory in Phoenix on May 5 but declined to wear a mask. (Video: The Washington Post)

White House implements stringent mask policy — but not for Trump

On Wednesday, Nessel pointed out that touring the Ford plant and not wearing a mask are at odds with Whitmer’s orders, which require manufacturing facilities to “suspend all nonessential in-person visits, including tours” and mandate the use of face coverings in any enclosed public spaces. Whitmer and Trump have repeatedly clashed over their respective handling of the pandemic.

Still, the governor’s office has said that Whitmer will not stop Trump’s visit to the factory.

“While the president’s visit is contrary to the governor’s order, this is an opportunity to showcase how important Michigan is to the response to COVID-19 and rebuilding our nation’s economy,” Zack Pohl, Whitmer’s communications director, told the Detroit Free Press in an email.

Other local leaders, however, have been less receptive.

In another letter to Trump on Wednesday, the chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners requested that the president cancel his trip. Ypsilanti Township, where the Ford plant is located, is in the county.

“I respect the Office of the President and generally welcome the opportunity for you to learn about the needs of our community, however, I firmly believe that your recent inaccurate statements and actions cause greater uncertainty, division and harm to our residents,” wrote Commissioner Jason Morgan (D), who shared a copy of the letter on Facebook.

Morgan noted that his concern, in part, stemmed from Trump’s unwillingness to commit to wearing a mask at the Ford facility.

“As a leader, this refusal to abide by a basic safety request sends the wrong signal for your supporters and our community,” he wrote.

Nessel echoed Morgan’s worry about the message Trump might convey if he arrives at the factory without a mask.

“I’m afraid that our state residents will see that and say, ‘If Trump doesn’t have to wear a mask when he’s in a manufacturing facility, why should I have to?’ ” she told the Hill on Wednesday. “It is very difficult to enforce the rules when you have a president who is flouting them.”

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