Democratic officials, governors push for nationwide mask mandate as administration defends state-by-state approach

Democratic officials, governors push for nationwide mask mandate as administration defends state-by-state approach
© Greg Nash

Democratic governors and lawmakers on Sunday pushed for a better-coordinated federal response to the coronavirus pandemic as cases spike in several states, particularly in the southern and eastern U.S.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (D-Calif.) said on ABC’s “This Week” that a national mask mandate was “long overdue,” and “it’s time for this administration to take this seriously.”

“[M]y understanding is that the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] has recommended the use of masks but not required it because they don’t want to offend the president,” she added, calling on President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE to “be an example” by wearing a mask and calling on his supporters to do the same.

Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBarr asked prosecutors to explore charging Seattle mayor over protest zone: report Bottom line Oregon senator says Trump's blame on 'forest management' for wildfires is 'just a big and devastating lie' MORE (D) made similar comments on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“We know that’s the solution from a health standpoint and a way to reopen the economy,” he said.

Inslee went on to say Trump had needlessly politicized both the issue of masks and the pandemic in general, citing his endorsement of protests against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) earlier in the year calling for an end to restrictions on public gatherings and businesses.

“The moment Donald Trump tweeted he wanted to liberate Michigan from the health messages of Governor Whitmer, all of the people wearing MAGA hats decided they didn’t want to help out as much,” Inslee added.

New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoOvernight Health Care: Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit | White House puts off action on surprise medical bills | Rising coronavirus cases spark fears of harsh winter NY health officials to review any vaccine approved by Trump Americans splurging on Halloween candy MORE (D), whose state was hardest hit by the virus but has since started to recover, said the Trump administration was “in denial” about the ongoing pandemic.

“If you listen to what the [Health and Human Services] secretary said, if you listen to what the president says, what they said at the White House briefing, they're saying what they said three months ago. They're basically in denial about the problem. They don't want to tell the American people the truth,” Cuomo said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

New York has gradually lifted restrictions throughout the state, region by region, including allowing many businesses in New York City, once a hotspot in the state, to reopen. However, with cases spiking in states like Florida, California, Oklahoma and Texas, Cuomo and the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut are requiring a 14-day quarantine for travelers from hard-hit states.

Vice President Pence defended the White House’s response and lack of a federal mandate on masks, telling CBS News’ John Dickerson “We've made it clear that we want to defer to governors. We want to defer to local officials, and people should listen to them.”

Pence also defended the federal approach as reflecting the realities of outbreaks in individual states. With a more standardized federal approach, Pence said, “we’d never have never had the success that we had in the greater New York City area, we'd have never had the success in Michigan or New Orleans because, from early on, we worked closely in partnership with governors to make sure that they had what they needed when they needed it, tailored to the unique circumstances in their states.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, meanwhile, denied that Trump has undermined public health messaging.

“I am the president's health secretary and I am telling people just what President Trump has said from day one of the guidelines,” Azar told CNN’s Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperThe media's misleading use of COVID-19 data Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 'We can't spend much time grieving' Ginsburg Pence aide dismisses concerns rushed vote on Trump nominee will hurt vulnerable senators MORE.

“I am the president's health secretary and I am telling people just what President Trump has said from day one of the guidelines,” Azar said.

The HHS secretary went on to dispute that premature reopenings in some states had caused spikes.

“We've got many communities in states that are just as reopened as these southern states but aren't experiencing this,” he said. “We've got to get to the bottom of why we're seeing these cases surge in this area, but at its core, we all own as individuals, our individual behavior to make sure that we are practicing appropriate social distancing and wearing facial covering when we're not able to, and practicing good personal hygiene and especially protecting our most vulnerable citizens.”