WASHINGTON – Ford executives encouraged President Donald Trump to don a face mask during his visit to one of its factories Thursday, but he said he chose not to wear it near photographers because he "didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it."
Trump, who was seen holding a navy blue mask with the presidential seal but not wearing it, said he put it on earlier in the tour. Ford officials accompanying the president were seen wearing face masks, according to reporters traveling with the president.
The president has come under scrutiny in the past for largely ignoring recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends Americans wear masks in public during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump, who notes the CDC advice is not mandatory, has described the decision as a "personal choice."
William Clay Ford Jr., the executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., encouraged Trump to wear the mask when he arrived at the factory, which has been manufacturing ventilators, according to a company statement issued minutes after the president departed the facility.
Ford is the great grandson of company founder Henry Ford.
"Bill Ford encouraged President Trump to wear a mask when he arrived," the company said in the statement. "He wore a mask during a private viewing of three Ford GTs from over the years. The President later removed the mask for the remainder of the visit."
Trump visited Michigan, a presidential battleground, to highlight the effort Ford has made in producing ventilators to confront the pandemic. Michigan has the fourth highest number of coronavirus deaths in the USA and thousands of the state's residents were ordered to evacuate this week over dam failures that triggered record flooding.
The president was asked about not wearing a mask as he approached reporters traveling with him in the state. Trump said he wore one in another area "where they preferred it." Asked why he declined to wear one in front of the cameras, Trump said that he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
The White House recently implemented new safety measures after two aides tested positive for the coronavirus and three members of the coronavirus task force entered quarantine after being close to someone who tested positive for the disease. The West Wing has mandated that anyone who is in close proximity to the president be tested daily and aides are required to wear masks when they are not at their desks.
Trump faced similar questions during visits this month to a Honeywell facility that produces N-95 masks in Phoenix and a medical distributor factory in Allentown, Pennsylvania. During the Phoenix visit, he was not wearing a mask but later told reporters he wore a mask "backstage" before he was told it was not necessary.
Asked about Ford executives who were wearing masks, Trump said it was "their choice."
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, issued an open letter on Wednesday calling on the president to protect Ford employees by wearing a mask.
"While my Department will not act to prevent you from touring Ford’s plant, I ask that while you are on tour you respect the great efforts of the men and women at Ford – and across this State – by wearing a facial covering," she wrote. "It is not just the policy of Ford, by virtue of the Governor’s Executive Orders. It is currently the law of this State."
Nessel told CNN on Thursday that if Trump failed to wear a mask, "he's going to be asked not to return to any enclosed facilities inside our state."
She also warned that she might take action against any company that allows him inside facilities without a mask.
"We simply can't afford it here in our state," she said.