For most of the summer, Joe Biden has harshly criticized President Donald Trump for failing to deliver a coherent system of coronavirus recommendations to states across the country. As part of this criticism, he has repeatedly vowed that, if elected, he will use his executive powers to put a national mask mandate in place, taking control away from local officials and individual Americans.
But this weekend, in an interview with AZFamily, Biden appeared to reconsider his vow. The Democratic challenger now believes that such an order might be unconstitutional.
Asked by the outlet what he would say to governors who appreciate Trump’s light-handed approach to orders and restrictions, Biden said, “Well, I hope you could trust the governors.”
We’re not sure exactly what that means, but he continued: “Here’s the deal, the federal government — there’s a constitutional issue whether federal government could issue such a mandate. I don’t think constitutionally they could, so I wouldn’t issue a mandate.”
Biden said he would instead “plead with” Americans to wear a mask while in public.
“I’d set an example,” he said.
The former vice president said that statistics show that widespread masking is effective in driving coronavirus infection numbers down.
“It’s about making sure the public is safe and secure, and that is a local decision but there should be national standards laid out as to how it should be gone about. You can’t mandate that,” he said.
Someone apparently got into Biden’s ear between mid-August and now, because he was singing a much different tune only a few short weeks ago.
“I hope we learned a lesson,” he said at the time. “Hope the president has learned the lesson. But again, this is not about Democrat, Republican or independent. This is about saving Americans’ lives. So let’s just institute a mass mandate nationwide starting immediately. And we will save — the estimates are that we will save 40,000 lives in the next three months once that is done.”
We suppose it’s better to recognize the constitutional limits of the presidency late than never, but Biden’s not exactly a newcomer to the federal government. After decades in the Senate and eight years in the vice-presidency, you’d think he would have a tighter grasp on constitutional questions of power.
Then again, considering who was president during those years, we can see why he might be confused.