Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in an apparent pivot from earlier declarations that he would leave enforcement of mask-wearing mandates to state and local authorities, said Thursday that he would, if elected, compel Americans to wear masks on federal property.
Biden called for a nationwide mask-wearing mandate in his Democratic Nation Convention speech but later, when questioned about the president having the legal authority to do so, said he would not, adding that a federal mandate would likely be unconstitutional. He said he would strongly encourage mask-wearing via a federal standard, but that he would leave enforcement to governors.
But on Sept. 17, during a CNN drive-in town hall crowd in Moosic, Pennsylvania, Biden said he believes the president has the authority to enforce such a mandate on federal property and that he would, if successful in his bid for the White House in November, force people to wear masks in places like federal buildings.
“You said about a month ago, for the next three months, all Americans should, you would like to see all Americans wearing masks,” CNN debate moderator Anderson Cooper said. “And that you would push governors to institute mandates for mask-wearing.”
“Yes,” Biden responded.
“Back in the pandemic in 1918, in some states, in some towns, they had actually outdoor courts to fine people who weren’t wearing masks. Is that something you would like to see happen in states?” Cooper asked.
“I would like to see the governors enforce mask-wearing, period,” Biden said. “I can do that on federal property.”
“As president, I will do that. On federal land, I would have the authority. If you’re on federal land, you must wear a mask. In a federal building, you must wear a mask,” he stated. “And we could have a fine for them not doing it.”
Biden insisted that “there’s no question” that wearing masks saves lives and when asked about the question of mandates imposing on personal liberty, he suggested people getting sick is a bigger infringement on freedom.
“I will tell you what takes away your freedom. What takes away your freedom is not being able to see your kid, not being able to go to the football game or baseball game, not being able to see your mom or dad sick in the hospital, not being able to do the things—that’s what costs our freedom,” Biden said.
Earlier in September, Biden told AZFamily’s “Politics Unplugged” that using executive authority to mandate nationwide mask-wearing would likely be unconstitutional, adding that, instead, he would try to persuade Americans to wear masks by laying out a national standard and setting an example by covering his face when out in public.
“Here’s the deal, the federal government—there’s a constitutional issue whether federal government could issue such a mandate. I don’t think constitutionally they could, so I wouldn’t issue a mandate,” Biden said.
“But I plead with, I carry my mask with me everywhere I go. I set an example,” he added.
On the last night of the Democratic National Convention, during his nomination acceptance speech, he said, “We’ll have a national mandate to wear a mask—not as a burden, but to protect each other,” adding, “It’s a patriotic duty.”
It follows earlier statements when Biden said governors need to implement mask mandates for the next three months, claiming the move would save the lives of 40,000 Americans.
President Donald Trump has said on multiple occasions that people should wear masks but his administration opposes issuing a nationwide mandate.