President Donald Trump on Thursday did not wear a mask for coronavirus protection during the public part of touring a Ford Motor Co. plant in Michigan, despite a state law and company policy requiring facial coverings there.
Trump, who has consistently refused to wear a mask in public, was visiting Ford's Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, which has a policy of requiring masks there. The plant is currently making ventilators in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States.
Video showed Trump on the factory floor talking to Ford executives who were wearing masks.
"Not necessary," Trump said, when a reporter asked why he was not wearing a facial covering.
"Everybody's been tested and I've been tested."
Trump also claimed "I had one [a mask] on before," in an area that was not visible to reporters, but added, "I didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it."
"I was given a choice, and I had one on in an area where they preferred it," Trump said, referring to Ford executives.
When Ford's executive chairman, William Ford Jr., was asked "can you confirm the president was told it is OK not to wear a mask in this area," Ford shrugged and said, "It's up to him!"
Both William Ford and CEO Bill Hackett each were wearing masks when they accompanied Trump for the visit to the factory floor.
The Ford company later issued a statement saying: "Bill Ford encouraged President Trump to wear a mask when he arrived. He wore a mask during a private viewing of three Ford GTs from over the years. The President later removed the mask for the remainder of the visit."
When William Ford introduced Trump for a speech to factory workers after the tour, the company chairman wore a mask as he spoke.
Trump did not.
United Automobile Workers, the union representing factory workers, released a statement which said: "Despite some in the President's entourage not following health and safety protocols in the plant today, we want to make it clear that the CDC guidelines have not changed and it is vitally important that our members continue to follow the protocols that have been put in place to safeguard them, their families and their communities.
"This deadly virus has taken the lives of 25 of our UAW members already and thousands of Americans. These protocols are literally a matter of life and death, and that is why the UAW has been working tirelessly with the companies to ensure that everything that can be done to keep our members and our communities safe."
The president's tour occurred despite an executive order signed earlier this week by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that prohibits nonessential visits to manufacturing facilities in the state to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Wednesday said that while she would not seek to block Trump's visit, he had a "legal responsibility" under state law to wear a mask when he visited the plant.
"I ask that while you are on tour you respect the great efforts of the men and women at Ford — and across this state — by wearing a facial covering," Nessel wrote in an open letter to the president.
On Tuesday, Ford Motor told media outlets that it had a policy of requiring masks there and that the company had informed the White House about that policy.
But the company also said that day "The White House has its own safety and testing policies in place and will make its own determination" about whether Trump and his party will wear masks during the visit.
Ford twice this week briefly shuttered plants elsewhere after three workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
When Trump was asked at the White House earlier Thursday if he would wear a mask when he visited the Ford factory, he had said, "I don't know, we're going to look at it"
But Nessel, in her letter to Trump, wrote that the mask requirement "is not just the policy of Ford, by virtue of the Governor's Executive Orders. It is currently the law of this State."
She also wrote, "Anyone who has potentially been recently exposed, including the President of the United States, has not only a legal responsibility, but also a social and moral responsibility, to take reasonable precautions to prevent further spread of the virus."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., during an interview Wednesday on MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," criticized Trump for not wearing a mask while in public.
"I also am concerned the example that is not being set for the rest of the country, and I'm concerned about those lives because while the president and the vice president may consider it not in their interest to wear a mask, they have doctors around them all the time who can tend to their needs at any given moment," Pelosi said.
"But most of the American people who might follow their lead do not have that same opportunity."
Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat whose Michigan district includes the factory that Ford visited, said Thursday during an interview on MSNBC, "Mr. President, I just hope you'll wear that mask so people know that it's important, and your wearing that mask can save lives."
Trump has refused to wear a mask during the coronavirus outbreak, even after two White House staffers, including his personal valet, tested positive for Covid-19.
In April, federal health officials issued guidance encouraging all Americans to wear a facial covering when in public and when unable to maintain a 6-foot distance from other people.
White House staffers last week were told that they must wear masks or facial coverings when entering the West Wing of that building.
Earlier this month, Trump did not wear a mask during a visit to a Honeywell factory in Phoenix that is making masks for the federal government. A sign at that factory says that masks are required for people there.
Vice President Mike Pence in April did not wear a mask while touring the Mayo Clinic health facility in Minnesota, despite a policy there requiring everyone to do so.
Days later, Pence wore a mask when visiting a General Motors ventilator factory in Indiana, which likewise requires facial coverings.
—CNBC's Mike Wayland contributed to this story
Clarification: The headline and story were clarified to reflect that Trump did wear a mask in private at the Ford plant.