Donald Trump denied mocking former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing a mask to an outdoor Memorial Day event, then appeared to do just that to a reporter who insisted on keeping his face covering on during a Rose Garden event on Tuesday.
“You want to be politically correct,” the president said to Reuters reporter Jeff Mason, whom he had asked to remove his mask to ask a question more audibly amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“No. I just want to wear the mask,” Mr Mason shot back, his mask in place.
Mr Biden and wife Jill Biden wore black masks on Monday to a Memorial Day event in Delaware, while the president and wife Melania Trump did not for ceremonies in Baltimore and Arlington, Virginia.
On Monday night, the president shared a tweet from a conservative commentator that poked fun at Mr Biden’s mask and signature aviator sunglasses.
This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public. Biden today. pic.twitter.com/9l1gw1ljBE
— Brit Hume (@brithume) May 25, 2020
A day later, when asked if he was mocking Mr Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, the president denied doing so.
Mr Trump did, however, question why Mr Biden was covering his face while “standing outside” on a day that, weather-wise, featured what he called “perfect conditions.”
“I thought that was fine,” the president said. “I wasn’t criticising him.”
That came hours after his top spokesperson, Kayleigh McEnany, told reporters that Mr Biden’s decision to cover his face outside was not “data-driven.”
“It’s a bit peculiar that he doesn’t wear a mask in his basement” while seated close to Ms Biden during television interviews, the press secretary said during a now-revived press briefing
When asked whether Mr Biden was just following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mask guidelines, Ms McEnany replied: “It’s recommended but not required.”
Mr Trump’s top spokesperson said the president, who has declined to cover his face during trips to 3M and Ford facilities in recent weeks, said he is “open” to doing so – but only if circumstances warrant it.
The issue of wearing a mask has become a highly political one, with conservatives claiming orders or recommendations that they do violate their “freedoms.”