Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Thursday that he would use federal power to require Americans to wear face masks in public -- a move that would mark a significant intervention by the federal government and could see considerable pushback from states.
Biden made the comments in an interview with CBS affiliate KDKA, in which he spoke about what he thinks should be done to reopen the country from the coronavirus shutdown. He said that he wants to see greater use of masks.
“The one thing we do know, these masks make a gigantic difference. I would insist that everybody in public be wearing that mask,” he said. “Anyone to reopen, it would have to make sure that they walked into a business that had masks.”
The interviewer asked if he would use “federal leverage” to mandate mask-wearing,
“Yes, I would from an executive standpoint, yes I would,” he said, to which the interviewer asked if he would then be mandating mask-wearing.
“I would do everything possible to make it required the people had to wear masks in public,” Biden said.
A number of states require mask-wearing in public when social-distancing is not possible, while a number of others merely recommend Americans in their states wear masks.
The Centers for Disease Control, meanwhile, recommends wearing “cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations.”
But mask-wearing has been hotly debated in many parts of the country and among lawmakers. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., recently said that “everyone should just wear a damn mask.”
But President Trump has not been seen in public wearing a mask, and has dismissed suggestions he should wear one. He has also suggested they could be counterproductive.
“They put their finger on the mask, and they take them off, and then they start touching their eyes and touching their nose and their mouth,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal last week. “And then they don’t know how they caught it?”
Any federal mandate that people wear masks would likely stir significant opposition, considering that state mandates have proved controversial.
A sheriff in southwest Washington state this week told residents to not be "a sheep" over Gov. Jay Inslee’s new statewide order requiring masks -- although he later clarified that he was not “outwardly saying I want you to violate the orders.”
A Fox News poll last week showed a large majority of Americans still have a favorable view toward mask-wearing.