Former Reagan staffer slams Mike Pence for not wearing a mask at the Mayo Clinic

Former Reagan staffer slams Mike Pence for not wearing a mask at the Mayo Clinic
Vice President Mike Pence, along with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, addresses his remarks at a coronavirus update briefing Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Vice President Mike Pence has been drawing a great deal of criticism for failing to wear a mask during his recent visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Much of that criticism has come from liberals and progressives, but some people on the right have been speaking out as well — including President Ronald Reagan’s former assistant press secretary, Mike Weinberg.

Weinberg, in an article published in The Bulwark on Thursday, recalls some of his activities when he was serving in the Reagan White House in the 1980s — arguing that Pence’s failure to wear a mask when visiting a major medical center during a deadly pandemic is exactly the type of bad publicity he tried to avoid.

Looking back on his time working for Reagan, Weinberg remembers, “It was January 1, 1986, the date on which California law required all drivers and passengers to wear seat belts when riding in a vehicle. On that very day, several White House reporters asked whether that would apply to the president and [First Lady Nancy] Reagan while riding in the Secret Service-driven limousine. It was an interesting question, especially since the Reagans were in California.”

Weinberg notes that he “did not want the next day’s headlines to be ‘Reagans Ignore California State Laws’” — and so, he called Nancy Reagan to make sure the Reagans would be wearing seat belts in California. The first lady told Weinberg, “Well, of course, we will. Ronnie and I always follow the law, and we need to set an example.”

“Fast forward to Pence’s refusal to wear the required mask at Mayo Clinic,” Weinberg writes. “It’s hardly surprising. Indeed, it is the latest and maybe most dangerous symptom of a deeply troubling and defining failure of the Trump Administration: arrogance and the unwillingness to accept the fact that when you work or live in the White House, you should set an example for how to behave.”

In defense of his decision to not wear a mask, Pence noted that he had been tested for COVID-19 and tested negative — which, Weinberg stresses, is no reason for him not to wear a mask in a hospital during a pandemic.

“Pence claims that because he has been tested for COVID-19, it’s OK to go without a mask,” Weinberg asserts. “But just because he tested negative Monday does not mean he was not exposed afterwards and is not contagious on Tuesday. That’s why he should have worn a mask — not simply to protect himself, but to protect others. That’s what public service is about.”

Pence, according to Weinberg, behaved in a typically Trumpian fashion at the Mayo Clinic by showing “a scandalous disregard for the importance of setting an example.”

Weinberg concludes his article by asserting that Pence, at the Mayo Clinic, should have been held to the same standard as everyone else.

“If the vice president wasn’t going to uphold this principle on his own, then the officials at the Mayo Clinic should have insisted that he wear a mask — or denied him entry,” Weinberg emphasizes. “Because in this country, the rules apply to everyone.”

It seems the criticism may have prompted Pence to overcome his aversion to wearing masks. NBC News’ Monica Alba, in a Thursday tweet, pointed out that the vice president wore one when he visiting a ventilator production line in Indiana.

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