President Donald Trump on Thursday evening blasted Joe Biden’s call for a national mask mandate, challenged the security of mail-in voting and questioned the eligibility of Kamala Harris as a vice presidential candidate, during a wide-ranging news briefing intended to provide updates and information about America’s battle against the worst pandemic in a generation.
“We will continue to urge Americans to wear masks when they cannot social distance, but we do not need to bring the full weight of the federal government down on law-abiding Americans to accomplish this goal,” he declared at Thursday’s briefing, criticizing comments Biden made earlier in the day.
“It’s up to the governors and we want to have a certain freedom,” the president said, adding that each state is “facing unique circumstances” in their fight against the disease. “Americans must have their freedoms and I trust the American people,” he said.
The comments from the president come after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Thursday called for a national mask mandate to limit the spread of COVID-19, stepping up his rhetoric on the issue after criticizing Trump’s own stance earlier this summer.
Biden, speaking during a brief appearance before reporters in Wilmington, Del., said that “every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum.”
Trump blasted Biden for what he described as politicizing the viral outbreak to score “political points,” while he used much of the press briefing in attempt to outline differences between the former vice president and himself as the race for the White House heats up. “Stop playing politics with the virus,” Trump said, at one point.
The president also emphasized his optimism about the prospects for a vaccine and remedies for the deadly illness.
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbed to 20.6 million on Thursday, with the death toll rising to 749,656, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. At least 12.8 million people are confirmed to have recovered. The U.S. has 5.19 million cases, and COVID-19-related deaths stand at 166,027.
Meanwhile, Trump attempted to clarify comments that he made about not funding the U.S. Postal Service and criticism of mail-in voting during a Fox Business Network interview, when he was asked about the issues preventing a deal with Democratic lawmakers on another coronavirus relief package,
The president said he would rather not provide funding to the USPS and encouraged voters to physically travel to voting stations even if the virus was still not under control on Election Day on Nov. 3.
“We want to have an accurate vote,” he said, suggesting that voting by mail is vulnerable to fraud. “I am not saying anything wrong with voting, I want them to vote, but that would mean they would have to go to a voting booth like they used to and vote,” he said.
“We want people to vote so when they vote it means one vote. It doesn’t mean ballots all over the place,” Trump continued.
Trump currently trails in national opinion polls and has repeatedly attacked mail-in voting this year, claiming that expanding such voting would lead to large-scale fraud in the election. Independent researchers have found no widespread cases of such voter fraud in past races. A number of states have conducted elections primarily by mail, and others are rolling out mail-in balloting.
He also claimed that countries like China, Iran and Russia could create counterfeit ballots.
Trump’s challenges to USPS funding have fueled allegations that he is trying to hamstring the service ahead of the presidential election where mail-in voting is likely to be crucial.
Later in the briefing, Trump declined to denounce claims that Harris doesn’t meet constitutional requirements to serve as Biden’s running mate. She is the first Black woman and the first person of Indian ancestry on a major national ticket.
“I just heard today that she doesn’t meet the requirements, and by the way, the lawyer who wrote that pieces is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer. I have no idea if that’s right,” he said.
“I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president,” he said in a response to reporter’s question.
The questions abut Harris follow an op-ed in Newsweek by John C. Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University, who argued that because neither of Harris’s parents were naturalized U.S. citizens at the time of Harris’s birth in 1964, she is not a “natural born citizen” and therefore “ineligible for the office of the president and, hence, ineligible for the office of the vice president.” A claim that has been refuted by experts, including in Newsweek.