YPSILANTI, Mich. (AP) – A day after threatening to withhold funds over Michigan's mail-in ballot effort, President Donald Trump was set to visit the electoral battleground Thursday to learn how the medical breathing machines governors begged for during the height of the coronavirus pandemic are made.
But hovering over his visit to a repurposed Ford Motor Co. factory in Ypsilanti, outside of Detroit, is whether he will wear a face covering.
(Pres. Trump arrived around 2:05 p.m.. He’s scheduled to speak at the plant around 4:30 p.m. - check the live video feed above)
Trump has refused to wear a face mask in public, a practice that federal health authorities say all Americans should adopt to help slow the spread of the virus.
Ford says everyone in its factories must wear personal protective equipment, including masks, and that its policy has been communicated to the White House. Trump wouldn't commit to wearing a mask at the plant when he was asked about the matter earlier this week.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that mask-wearing isn't just Ford's policy but it's also the law in a state that's among those hardest hit by the virus. She sent Trump a letter Wednesday asking him to respect Ford's employees by covering his nose and mouth during the visit, which will include a roundtable discussion with black leaders, a factory tour and speech.
"Anyone who has potentially been recently exposed, including the president of the United States, has not only a legal responsibility, but also a social and moral responsibility, to take reasonable precautions to prevent further spread of the virus,” Nessel said.
At least two people who work in the White House and had been physically close to Trump recently tested positive for the virus. Trump is tested daily; the White House says he remains negative.
An executive order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer requires factories to suspend all nonessential in-person visits, including tours, though Nessel said her office would not bar Trump.
The Republican president and Whitmer, a Democrat, have clashed during the coronavirus outbreak over her criticism of the federal government's response to the state's needs for medical equipment, like ventilators, and personal protective gear, such as gloves, masks and gowns.
In the early days of the crisis, Whitmer and other governors and medical workers clamored for ventilators, fearing a shortage of the machines would prove deadly as the virus made breathing difficult for the scores of afflicted patients who were being brought to hospitals.
But the U.S. now has a surplus of the breathing machines, leading Trump to begin describing the U.S. as the “king of ventilators.”
Whitmer was not expected to accompany Trump during the visit.
“We do not have plans to meet, but I did speak with him yesterday on the phone," Whitmer told "CBS This Morning” on Thursday. “I made the case that, you know, we all have to be on the same page here. We’ve gotta stop demonizing one another and, really, focus on the fact that the common enemy is the virus.”
On Wednesday, Trump threatened to withhold federal funds from Michigan after its secretary of state mailed absentee ballot applications to millions of voters. Trump first tweeted — erroneously — that the Democratic state official had mailed absentee ballots to Michigan voters. He later sent a corrected tweet specifying that applications to request absentee ballots had been mailed.
Trump narrowly won Michigan in 2016. He insists mail-in voting is ripe for fraud, although there is scant evidence of wrongdoing.
At the White House, Trump said he and Whitmer in their call discussed the coronavirus pandemic and the catastrophic flooding and mass evacuations caused by the failure of dams in the state's central region — not his tweeted threat to withhold federal money.
Trump also needled Whitmer on Twitter over her decision to keep stay-at-home orders largely in place. He said military and federal emergency management teams had been sent to assist with the flood response but added that the “Governor must now ‘set you free’ to help.”
That was a reference to his strong push for states to lift stay-at-home restrictions and allow businesses to reopen so people can resume shopping and dining out.
Last month, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” as residents there and in other states began holding protests against orders to stay at home.