WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump makes a rare trip out of Washington on Tuesday to tour a mask production plant in Arizona, visiting a state he hopes to win in the November election even as Americans avoid travel to fight the coronavirus.
Trump, a Republican who is running for re-election, has been holed up at the White House for weeks as his administration oversees the response to the pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of people in the United States alone.
The president has faced criticism for giving mixed messages about the virus, which he downplayed in the early stages of the outbreak. His trip to another state requires a flight on Air Force One with an entourage of staff, Secret Service agents, reporters and military personnel at a time when many Americans are avoiding flying because of the risk of virus spread.
Trump has sought to give an optimistic view about the country’s ability to recover from the virus and is eager for states to reopen businesses whose lockdown closings have driven down the economy and left millions unemployed.
The president is scheduled to tour a Honeywell International Inc mask production assembly line during his trip and to preside over a discussion about supporting Native Americans.
The federal government has encouraged Americans to wear masks to avoid spreading the virus even when not feeling any symptoms of COVID-19, the disease it causes. Trump has so far declined to wear a mask himself, and Vice President Mike Pence drew criticism for not wearing one during a recent trip to the famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
The location of Trump’s first trip out of Washington in weeks was not coincidental.
Trump won Arizona in the 2016 election against Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but opinion polls show him currently trailing the presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the Southwestern state.
Republican U.S. Senator Martha McSally is traveling with Trump on the trip to her home state. She is also trailing her Democratic opponent, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, in the November race, according to RealClearPolitics poll averages.
McSally, a former Air Force combat pilot, was appointed last year to the seat held by the late Senator John McCain. She is running in a special election to determine who will serve the last two years of the term.
McSally posted a message on Twitter in front of Air Force One before the flight. In it, she was not wearing a mask.
Reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Jonathan Oatis