In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash in Delaware – Biden’s first in-person interview since being knocked off the campaign trail by the coronavirus pandemic – the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said Trump is fueling a cultural opposition to wearing masks when “every leading doc in the world is saying we should wear a mask when you’re in a crowd.”
“This macho stuff, for a guy – I shouldn’t get going, but it just, it costs people’s lives. It’s costing people’s lives,” Biden said. Trump’s position amounts to “stoking deaths,” he said.
He added: “Presidents are supposed to lead, not engage in folly and be falsely masculine.”
The comment comes as Trump has sought to politicize the wearing of masks during the coronavirus crisis. Trump himself has not worn a mask during factory tours in recent weeks, even as public health experts have recommended wearing them.
Biden made his comments the day after his first public outing following two months at home in Delaware as the coronavirus pandemic has spread, forcing a halt to in-person campaign events. The former vice president and his wife Jill on Monday wore black masks as they laid a wreath at the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
Fox News host Brit Hume tweeted a photo of Biden’s face in the mask with the comment: “This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public.” Trump later retweeted Hume.
Trump has ignited controversy by not wearing masks, including at a Ford factory tour in Michigan last week, saying he’d worn one during a private portion of the visit but took it off for the tour because he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,” and earlier this month during a trip to a Honeywell factory in Arizona that is manufacturing masks.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a briefing that it was “peculiar” for the former vice president to don a mask outdoors because he doesn’t wear one all the time at home – though federal guidelines do not recommend masking among people living together.
“It is a bit peculiar, though, that in his basement, right next to his wife, he’s not wearing a mask. But he’s wearing one outdoors when he’s socially distant. So I think that there was a discrepancy there,” McEnany said during Tuesday’s White House press briefing.
In the interview with CNN, Biden also responded to Trump and his reelection campaign’s frequent suggestions that Biden is senile or has lost a step.
Asked how he would answer those attacks, Biden said: “Watch me.”
“Look, I mean, talk about a guy who’s missing a step,” he said of Trump. “He’s missing something, man.”
And he criticized Trump for repeatedly lying about voter fraud. Trump in recent weeks has railed against the use of mail-in ballots, which some states are seeking to use in increased numbers amid the coronavirus crisis. On Tuesday, the President tweeted in response to California pushing to expand voting by mail, “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.”
Biden noted that Trump himself has voted by mail in Florida.
“This is a guy that sits in the Oval Office, throws off his absentee mail-in ballot and sends it to Florida to vote in the primary. Now why is that not something that is susceptible to fraud?” Biden said.
“There’s no evidence at all” of widespread voter fraud associated with mail-in ballots, Biden said.
Biden’s campaign on Tuesday said it had hired Rachana Desai Martin as its national director for voter protection, a move that comes ahead of what’s likely to be a fight over voting methods and access as Trump turns the Republican Party – which in some states has sought expanded vote-by-mail options – against allowing votes be cast by mail.
Biden also addressed the controversy over his comments in an interview with Charlamagne tha God, an African American host of the popular nationally syndicated morning radio show “The Breakfast Club,” that if black voters “have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Biden had sought to walk back that comment hours afterward, and Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the top-ranking African American in the House and a close Biden ally, said on ABC’s “The View” Tuesday that he “cringed, no question about that” when he heard Biden’s remark.
“First of all, you know, it was a mistake, number one. And I was smiling when he asked me the question. I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy with him. He was being a wise guy and I responded,” Biden told Bash.
He said he has “never, never once” taken the African American community for granted, and that “I’ve got to make it clear why I think I deserve their look.”
Biden said he was “never going to stoop to where” Trump is, and that the President “says so many outrageous things.”
He said he noted to a friend who is a prominent African American recently that Trump – who has fueled baseless “Obamagate” conspiracy theories on Twitter in recent weeks – was attacking former President Barack Obama.
“I said, ‘Why is he going after Barack?’ He said, ‘Because it stirs up his base. Barack is a black man,’” Biden said.
But he also said some Democrats who have urged Biden to stop apologizing for gaffes like the one on “The Breakfast Club” given Trump’s history of racist actions are wrong.
“When I say something that is understandably in retrospect offensive to someone – and legitimately offensive, making it look like I take them for granted – I should apologize,” Biden said.
Biden also addressed his search for a running mate, saying his vice presidential search committee has interviewed “a lot” of the people under consideration to be his potential running mate.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee would not commit to choosing a woman of color as his running mate, saying that “we haven’t gotten there yet.”