Trump should tell people to wear coronavirus masks, ex-chief of staff Mick Mulvaney says

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump "probably should" urge American residents to wear coronavirus masks, ex-White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told CNBC on Wednesday.
  • "It would not hurt him ... politically and it certainly wouldn't hurt us economically, said Mulvaney, now a special envoy to Northern Ireland.
  • Mulvaney is the latest Republican in Washington to call on Trump to embrace wearing face coverings.
Former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on PPP extension

Former White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told CNBC on Wednesday that President Donald Trump "probably should" urge American residents to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic

"It would not hurt him ... politically and it certainly wouldn't hurt us economically and would probably help for him to go out and say, 'You know what, go back to work, just a wear a mask. It's the best thing you can possibly do,'" Mulvaney, now a special envoy to Northern Ireland, said on "Squawk Box."

Trump has largely eschewed wearing a face covering in public during the Covid-19 crisis, and even suggested some people choose to wear them only to "signal disapproval of him." 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends people wear a mask in public, especially in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Cali., on Sunday called for the CDC to issue a mask mandate, which some state and local governments have done.  

Mulvaney, who Trump removed from his post as acting chief of staff in March, is the latest Republican in Washington to diverge from the president on face masks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,  said on Monday there should be "no stigma" about wearing a face covering, emphasizing it's about "protecting everyone we encounter." 

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence urged Americans who are living in areas with Covid-19 outbreaks to wear a mask in public. Pence's comments came at an event in Texas, one of the U.S. states currently experiencing a significant rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. 

Mulvaney's comments Wednesday followed the results of the latest CNBC/Change Research poll, which showed a majority of voters in six swing states key to the 2020 election disapprove of how Trump is handling the pandemic. Only 43% of voters agree that Trump is setting a good example and providing accurate information about proper Covid-19 precautions, the poll found.

Trump, who wore a mask during the private portion of a Ford plant tour in May, has previously downplayed his need to wear a mask by noting he is frequently tested for Covid-19, as are the people around him. 

Mulvaney said if Trump "chooses to be, there is no more socially distanced person in the world than the president of the United States." Yet Mulvaney suggested that a change in stance on masks from Trump would be valuable for the country. 

"Certainly the president could start wearing them to send that message," Mulvaney said. "Look, the way you get this virus is by getting it from someone who is sick, and if you wear a mask and they wear a mask, it reduces the risk dramatically." 

In a briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump has "no problem with masks." But she added that it is "his decision whether to wear a mask." 

Trump "encourages people to make whatever decision is best for their safety and to follow what their local jurisdictions say,"  McEnany said.

Trump announced in early March that Mulvaney would be succeeded as chief of staff by now-former Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina. 

Mulvaney was tapped to serve as acting chief of staff in December 2018, following the departure of retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. A former House member from South Carolina, Mulvaney had also been serving as the director of the Office of Management and Budget.