Biden backs off federal mask mandate, says he would 'pressure' state officials instead

'You can't do things the Constitution doesn't allow you the power to do,' the presidential candidate says

Updated: September 3, 2020 - 4:34pm

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden appears to be walk back his earlier suggestions that he would use the power of the presidency to institute a nationwide mask mandate, claiming instead that he would simply engage in a pressure campaign to influence lower U.S. officials to implement mandates of their own. 

Biden in June declared that upon assuming office, if elected, he would use the power of his office to ensure that "everybody out in public" wear a mask. "I would do everything possible to make it required that people had to wear masks in public," he said during an interview. 

Yet on Wednesday Biden offered a more equivocal vision of that proposal, acknowledging at a press conference the "question whether or not a president, under the Constitution, could mandate everyone wear a mask."

"I'm a constitutionalist," Biden said. "You know, you can't do things the Constitution doesn't allow you the power to do."

He said that rather than issue an executive order he would be "putting as much pressure as I could on every governor, every ... mayor, every county executive, every local official, and everyone in business, putting pressure on them to say, 'What you're doing is irresponsible. Make sure you wear a mask and maintain social distancing'.”

Though both Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris called for a nationwide mask mandate last month, Harris last week said that, potential mandate notwithstanding, "nobody's gonna be punished" for failing to wear a mask. 

"The point is, this is what we, as responsible people who love our neighbor, we have to just do that right now," she said. 

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