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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Trump assails, misrepresents Biden on mask mandate in partisan White House briefing

President Donald Trump on Thursday launched a partisan attack on Joe Biden at a White House press briefing, inaccurately suggesting the presumptive Democratic nominee wanted a national mandate on mask wearing while assailing Biden as "regressive," "anti-scientific" and "defeatist."

Speaking to reporters from the lectern in the James S. Brady briefing room, Trump claimed Biden advocated a national mask mandate to fight the virus — an act that Trump said ignored the different needs of individual states and trampled on governors' authority. Earlier Thursday, Biden and recently announced running mate Kamala Harris called on governors to issue mask mandates amid a national effort to curb the pandemic.

Biden "wants the president of the United States with the mere stroke of a pen to order over 300 million American citizens to wear a mask for a minimum of three straight months," Trump said. "He thinks it's good politics, I guess. No matter where they live and no matter their surroundings."

Biden did not say if he would impose a national mask mandate Thursday. So far, 35 states and a number of municipalities require people to wear masks in public and where no social distancing is possible.

Trump himself urged Americans to wear masks during his briefing, saying it was the "patriotic thing to do."

Trump also said Biden advocated "locking all-Americans in their basements for months on end," further painting a picture of a candidate set on presidential overreach.

"He wants to shut down our economy, close our schools, and grind society to a halt and he wants it done by a federal decree," Trump said. "This would lead to a crippling, long-lasting depression."

Trump's remarks came the day after Biden and Harris presented themselves as a pro-science foil to the president and administration's at-times contradictory response to the pandemic, a key emerging plank of their campaign platform.

Trump in turn used the briefing to counter strike, focusing keenly on his Democratic rivals as opposed to touting his administration's response.

When reporters at Trump's briefing asked White House staff if the president's opening statement was in compliance with the Hatch Act, White House spokesperson Judd Deere said: "The President’s prepared remarks are composed in compliance with the Hatch Act."

The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from partaking in political activities in their official capacities.

Trump and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel have argued that the act does not apply to the president, allowing him to use the White House for partisan means.

Despite his partisan tone, Trump later included a seemingly scripted appeal to unity. "Americans must unite together and they must put politics aside and have to really unite for a common good," he said.

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