Not even Joe Biden understands his position on a national mask mandate

When it comes to supporting a national mask mandate, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is all over the place.

The federal government cannot order people to wear masks, Biden said this week. That would likely be unconstitutional. But it was Biden who proposed the idea of “a mask mandate nationwide” in mid-August. He even said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention that a mask mandate would be part of his national strategy to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

When the Biden campaign says the United States needs competent and coherent leadership amid the pandemic, is this what it had in mind?

“Here’s the deal,” the former vice president said in an interview this week with an Arizona CBS News affiliate. “The federal government, there’s a constitutional issue whether the federal government could issue such a mandate. I don’t think, constitutionally, they could.”

“So, I wouldn’t issue a mandate,” Biden added, “but I’d plead with, I’d carry my mask with me everywhere I go, I’d set an example, I’d make sure that — and I understand what’s happening, you see what’s happening in your state. The numbers are going down because local authorities have taken the responsibility of issuing mandates in their cities and the counties. And fewer people are showing up without masks.”

In August, Biden very much favored a national mask mandate. He told reporters in Delaware, “Let’s institute a mask mandate nationwide, starting immediately, and we will save lives.”

Biden later promoted the idea during his acceptance speech.

“If I’m president, on day one, we’ll implement the national strategy I’ve been laying out since March,” said the Democratic nominee. “We’ll have a national mandate to wear a mask — not as a burden, but to protect each other. It’s a patriotic duty. In short, I will do what we should have done from the very beginning.”

“There’s a question whether the president, under the Constitution, could mandate everyone wear a mask,” he told reporters last week. “I’m a constitutionalist. You know, you can’t do things the constitution doesn’t allow you the power to do.”

He added, “What I would be doing is 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.”

After the convention, Biden’s running mate also said the mandate would carry no real-life consequences.

“Nobody’s going to be punished,” said Sen. Kamala Harris of California. “This is what we, as responsible people who love our neighbor, we have to just do that right now.”

Later, after Biden had already amended his position, Harris said his proposal would be more like a “standard” than an actual federal mandate.

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