Biden believes he would have authority to impose national mask mandate

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said that he believes he would have the legal authority to impose a nationwide mask mandate to slow the spread of coronavirus if elected president, after saying earlier this month that he did not know if such an order would be enforceable.

Speaking to reporters in Delaware on Wednesday, Biden said that he had spoken to his campaign’s legal team about the feasibility of imposing such a mandate in certain states, depending on the conditions in the U.S.

“Our legal team thinks I can do that, based upon the degree to which there’s a crisis in those states, and how bad things are for the country,” Biden said. If it were deemed legal, he said would sign an executive order requiring people to wear masks when in public.

Earlier in September, Biden said he would pressure governors and local officials to impose a mask mandate, saying there’s a “question under the Constitution” about whether a president can institute a national mandate.

“Why do you wear a mask? To protect your neighbor? To keep someone else from getting sick and maybe dying. I call that patriotic. This is the United States of America. Every generation has made sacrifices to help others in moments of crisis,” Biden said at the time.

Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, called for a three-month nationwide mask mandate in August.

“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months, at a minimum. Every governor should mandate mandatory mask-wearing,” Biden said at the time, suggesting that widespread mask use could save 40,000 lives over the next three months. “Let’s institute a mask mandate nationwide starting immediately, and we will save lives.”

Biden, who has previously cast doubt on a potential coronavirus vaccine produced during the Trump administration, also said on Wednesday that he trusts the words of scientists, but not of President Trump.

“Let me clear: I trust vaccines, I trust the scientists but I don’t trust Donald Trump,” Biden said.

Bo Erickson contributed to this report.

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