In an interview with “Fox & Friends” on Thursday morning, second lady Karen Pence was asked about the controversy surrounding her husband’s decision not to wear a protective mask during a tour of the Mayo Clinic earlier this week. Here’s how she explained it:
“That’s a great question, I’m glad that you asked me. First of all, it was a great visit to Mayo – they are doing amazing research with blood from recovered Covid-19 patients – and as our medical experts have told us wearing a mask prevents you from spreading the disease and knowing that he doesn’t have Covid-19, he didn’t wear one. It was actually after he left Mayo Clinic that he found out that they had a policy of asking everyone to wear a mask. So you know, someone has worked on this whole task force for over 2 months is not someone who would have done anything to offend anyone or hurt anyone or scare anyone. I’m glad that you gave me the opportunity to talk about that.”
Which, well, OK.
There are lots of reasons why this explanation doesn’t totally check out.
First, according to a since-deleted tweet from the Mayo Clinic, the vice president was told before his visit to the Mayo Clinic that masks were required to be worn. That gibes with reporting by CNN’s Kevin Liptak, who wrote: “The Mayo Clinic briefed Pence’s team in the last several days about the clinic’s policy requiring face masks, a person involved in planning the visit.”
Now, it’s not clear whether someone from the Mayo Clinic told Pence directly that he needed to wear a mask, or simply passed that along to staff, who may or may not have told the VP. But the point is that someone in Pence’s office (or maybe several someones) had been alerted to the mask policy at Mayo prior to the visit.
Second, wearing a mask in public when social distancing of 6 feet is not always possible is a recommendation from the White House coronavirus task force – of which Pence is the chairman! Here’s the CDC recommendations on mask-wearing as of mid-April:
“CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
“CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”
The argument that Pence is regularly tested for the virus is also not the point. The CDC recommendation is that masks be “used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.” So you would think that the guy who leads the coronavirus task force at the White House might, you know, just wear one to show Americans how important wearing them is.
Third, and this feels like the most obvious reason why Pence should have been wearing a mask, is because he has a functional set of eyes. And those eyes undoubtedly allowed him to look around at every other person at the Mayo Clinic and realize that they had masks on and he didn’t. (According to reporters who traveled with Pence that day, everyone else in the building had a mask on.) How difficult would it have been for Pence, within a few minutes of setting foot in the Mayo Clinic and realizing that he was the only one without a mask to say to an aide, “Hey, go grab me one of those ASAP?” I mean, the people who flew to the Mayo Clinic with Pence – including Stephen Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration – had masks on! Come on, man!
What’s the real reason Pence didn’t wear a mask? My educated guess is that Pence was following a sort-of unstated rule of politics: Never wear anything on your head.
“Here’s the general rule: You don’t put stuff on your head if you’re president,” then-President Barack Obama said when given a Navy football helmet in 2016. “That’s Politics 101. You never look good wearing something on your head.” (The “rule” dates back to the 1988 presidential campaign, when Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis appeared in a tank with a helmet on – a move considered one of the largest flubs in modern presidential politics.)
While a mask isn’t the same thing as a funny hat, I think Pence was simply following that hat rule anyway. Or taking his cues from his boss, who has made clear he doesn’t think wearing a mask is for him. “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” Trump said of mask-wearing earlier this month. “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens – I just don’t see it.”