US Republicans begin to break ranks with Trump on face mask issue

White House says Trump believes ‘It’s the personal choice of any individual as to whether to wear a mask or not.’

US House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, wears a mask as he leaves following a press conference about Republican efforts against House
US House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, wears a mask as he leaves following a press conference in Washington, DC, the United States [File: Saul Loeb, AFP]

In a rare split with mask-averse President Donald Trump, fellow Republican leaders are making a public push for face coverings as COVID-19 cases surge in some Republican-leaning states.

The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said every American has a responsibility to follow the recommendations of United States health officials to wear masks and socially distance themselves to help slow the spread of infection.

“They should wear a mask,” McCarthy told CNBC on Monday after his home state of California began to roll back efforts to reopen the economy. “If you cannot social distance, you need to be wearing a mask and you need to be respectful to one another.”

Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, where cases are spiking, posted a similar message on Twitter.

“I am encouraging everyone to WEAR YOUR MASKS!” he said.

Trump has given at least two reasons for eschewing a mask in public, while his Democratic opponent in November’s election, former Vice President Joe Biden, generally wears one.

Trump has said he cannot picture himself in a mask while greeting royalty and foreign leaders, including dictators. He also has said he did not want to give journalists the pleasure of seeing him wear one.

The city of Jacksonville, Florida, where Trump is expected to accept the Republican presidential nomination in August, adopted a mandatory mask requirement for public and indoor locations on Monday. The city’s mayor, Lenny Curry, is a Republican.

Asked if the surge in cases and the Jacksonville action had changed Trump’s thinking about wearing a mask, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters: “It’s the personal choice of any individual as to whether to wear a mask or not. He encourages people to make whatever decision is best for their safety but he did say to me he has no problem with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdiction requests of you.”

Throughout the country, resistance to public health measures has taken on a partisan tone. A Reuters/Ipsos survey in May found one-third of Republicans were “very concerned” about the virus, compared to nearly half of Democrats.

Some Republicans in Congress have held off on wearing masks. Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas told CNN he would not wear one because “I don’t have the coronavirus.” Other Republicans have shied away from insisting Americans cover their faces in public, saying it was a matter of personal choice.

That began to change as coronavirus cases nationwide soared to record levels day after day, prompting Republican-led states like Texas and Florida to reimpose restrictions, such as closing recently reopened bars.

Vice President Mike Pence encouraged Americans to wear masks during a visit to Texas on Sunday.

In one of the more compelling images, Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming on Friday tweeted a photo of her father, Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing a surgical mask with the hashtag #realmenwearmasks.

Source: Reuters