Retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) implored President Donald Trump to publicly wear a mask on Sunday in order to cool the politicization of mask-wearing, appealing to the president’s vanity in the process.
With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surging across the nation and states pulling back on reopening their economies, Alexander was asked by CNN’s Manu Raju on Sunday morning about the president’s resistance to symbolically embrace a basic safety protocol.
“You, I see you wearing your red-and-black plaid mask throughout the capitol, your staff does as well,” Raju noted on CNN’s Inside Politics. “The president, however, he refuses to wear one. The vice president continues to say this is an issue states should decide. Should the White House do more and the president do more to urge Americans to wear masks?”
Alexander, who is leaving office at the end of the year, said he wished Trump “would wear a mask when it is appropriate,” adding that “millions of Americans admire him” and would therefore follow his lead. Recent polls show that while the vast majority of Americans say they’ve been wearing masks in public spaces, more Democrats than Republicans have worn face coverings amid the pandemic.
The Tennessee lawmaker went on to point out that the administration’s public health experts have all said social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand washing can help contain the disease before reiterating that Trump publicly wearing a mask would “get rid of this political debate.”
“The stakes are much too high for that,” he added. “So I understand why he does it. Most of the time he’s with people who have been tested, he’s been tested, so they’re not infecting others. But there are times when he could wear a mask, the vice president could wear a mask, it would signal to the country to do so.”
The conservative senator ended his plea to Trump by playing to the president’s well-known obsession with appearing strong and tough.
“People admire him and will follow his lead,” Alexander concluded. “So I think it would be a sign of strength if he would from time to time wear a mask and remind everyone that it is a good way to help with this disease.”
Vice President Mike Pence said on Sunday that while the administration believes “people should wear masks wherever social distancing is not possible,” the decision should be left up to the states and localities. At the same time, he defended his and Trump’s lack of public mask-wearing, noting that he’s worn a mask “several times” and Trump has done so at least once.
With COVID-19 cases exploding in Arizona and Texas, masks have continued to be a hot-button political topic in the Republican-led states. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has pleaded with Texans to wear masks in public but has declined to issue a statewide mandate; in fact, he banned localities from imposing penalties for not wearing one, though he has recently allowed them to require mask use at businesses. In Arizona, meanwhile, a councilman came under fire when he protested against a local requirement to wear masks by quoting George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” plea.