President Donald Trump on Tuesday planned to travel to Arizona to visit a facility producing masks, his first major trip in nearly two months as he pushes states to roll back social distancing restrictions amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Trump's visit to Phoenix will bring him to a battleground state to highlight the U.S. response to the COVID-19 outbreak as he fights for re-election in the face of weak ratings for his handling of the crisis.
The day-trip mirrors recent travel by Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested the waters of what types of official excursions are possible in a time of social distancing and as the Trump administration had for a month and a half encouraged Americans to avoid unnecessary travel.
Pence found himself in hot water last week for not wearing a mask during a stop at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, despite the clinic's policy requiring visitors to don face coverings. Later in the week, he donned one for a trip to a Wisconsin factory producing ventilators, and on Sunday, he said he had made a mistake in Minnesota.
Trump's trip will take him to a facility run by the industrial conglomerate Honeywell, which said in March it would start producing high-quality N95 masks, in high demand nationwide. Asked last week if he would wear a mask during his visit, Trump said he was open to the idea but did not commit to it.
"I would have to look at the climate," Trump told reporters Thursday. "I’d have no problem wearing a mask. I don’t know, I'm supposed to make a speech. I just don’t know -- Can I speak in a mask? You’re going to have to tell me if that’s politically correct."
Even though the federal government recommends Americans wear face masks or coverings to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, Trump has so far has yet to don one in public. In some places, doing so has become somewhat of a political statement; an ABC News/Ipsos poll last month found more Democrats than Republicans wore them when they left their home.
Ohio's governor recently pulled back a statewide order mandating masks be worn in stores after facing opposition, and in Michigan, a security guard was reportedly killed for not letting a person enter a store without a mask.
Trump's Arizona trip will be his first outside the mid-Atlantic region in nearly two months.
"I've been at the White House now for many months, and I'd like to get out," Trump said Wednesday.
Trump planned to tour the Honeywell facility, deliver remarks and hold a roundtable discussion on supporting Native Americans, whose communities have been hit hard by the pandemic, according to the White House.
A senior administration official said the president intended to take more trips in the coming weeks to highlight stories of American resilience in the face of the pandemic and Americans who have benefited from government assistance.
But the travel could also have the adverse effect of shining a spotlight on deficiencies in Trump's response to the outbreak as the virus continues to spread, such as continued pleas from across the country for more testing supplies and a continued reliance on foreign manufacturing for critical medical equipment.
The president left the White House for the first time in over a month on Friday evening, spending the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland before traveling to the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, for a "virtual town hall" with Fox News.
In the last two months, his only other sojourns had been a quick hop to Norfolk, Virginia, in late February, to send off a U.S. Navy hospital ship, and a short drive a week earlier to the Washington headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As with Trump's Tuesday travel to Arizona, most of Pence's recent trips have taken him to battleground states key to his and the president's re-election.
The president has repeatedly expressed hope that he can soon restart his massive campaign rallies -- packing tens of thousands of people into an event site, without the constraints of social distancing measures.
On Sunday, Trump said during the Fox News "town hall" that he did not know when his next rally would take place. He did not answer when asked if he would wear a mask to it.
A lot has changed since Trump last visited Arizona, for a campaign rally on Feb. 19.
At that time, Trump told a local reporter that he thought the coronavirus’s spread would dissipate in April.
“I think it’s going to work out fine,” Trump said then. “I think when we get into April and the warmer weather that has a negative effect on that and that type of virus, so let’s see what happens but I think it’s going to work out fine."
He also praised China and it leader, Xi Jinping. Trump has since blamed China for, as he says, allowing the virus to spread.
“I am confident that they’re trying very hard,” he said. “I know President Xi, I get along with him very well." He added: “They are trying very, very hard."