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 PelosiWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Conspiracies? Let's investigate this one FBI investigating whether woman took Pelosi laptop, tried to sell it to Russians 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 TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE to “be an example” by wearing a mask and calling on his supporters to do the same.

Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeThousands of troops dig in for inauguration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Nine, including former Michigan governor, charged over Flint water crisis | Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies | Trump admin adds hurdle to increase efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters Legislatures boost security after insurrection, FBI warnings 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: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February Health workers refusing vaccine is new growing US problem Governors say no additional vaccine doses coming, despite Trump admin promise 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 TapperOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Durbin says he won't whip votes for Trump's second impeachment trial 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.”