Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden attracted mixed reviews from his assertion in recent months that he would support a three-month mandate for face mask use across the nation if he is elected president in November.
During a press conference on Wednesday, however, he backtracked on that promise, asserting only that he would use his position to pressure local and state officials to enforce such orders, as reported by Fox News.
“Putting as much pressure as I could”
The former vice president cited constitutional uncertainties as the reason he would not back an executive order applying the mandate at a federal level.
“There’s a question whether or not a president, under the Constitution, could mandate everyone wear a mask,” he said. “And remember, all during the primary I’d have a lot of people telling me, ‘I would by executive order do.’ I’m a constitutionalist. You know, you can’t do things the Constitution doesn’t allow you the power to do.”
Though he did not offer such nuance in previous statements on the matter, Biden went on to clarify his current stance.
“What I would be doing is putting as much pressure as I could on every governor, every senator — I mean, excuse me, every mayor, every county executive, every local official, and everyone in business, putting pressure on them to say, ‘What you’re doing is irresponsible. Make sure you wear a mask and maintain social distancing,'” Biden said.
His references to a three-month mandate date back to June. The next presidential term begins in January, however, and recent developments are leading experts to believe an effective vaccine could be available by the end of this year.
“This is a universal feeling”
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Biden’s running mate, has also supported a mandate only to soften her rhetoric in subsequent remarks.
In an interview last week, she clarified that no one would be “punished” for failing to comply with the type of order she supports.
“Nobody likes to wear a mask,” Harris said. “This is a universal feeling. Right? So that’s not the point, ‘Hey, let’s enjoy wearing masks.’ No.”
She went on to endorse educating Americans about masks and “what we — as responsible people who love our neighbor — we have to just do that right now.”
While Biden and Harris might think their positions give voters the impression that they are tougher than President Donald Trump in their coronavirus response. The fact that they are backing away from any real enforcement of a mandate, however, indicates the idea is not as popular among Americans as Democrats would like to believe.