No one knows for sure whether President Donald Trump will wear a mask when he walks on to the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday to deliver his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president.
But at least one of the invited Illinois delegates says he would.
“I’ll be wearing a mask,” said Richard Porter, a Republican national committeeman from Illinois.
That’s if Porter attends.
On Wednesday, he was still weighing whether to fly to Washington, D.C., or stay in Chicago for a small watch party he organized in River North.
And just as uncertain is whether any of the other 1,000 Republicans expected to gather in Washington to hear the president speak will be wearing masks.
But no matter what happens at the finale of the GOP convention, Republicans expect the question of going bare faced vs. masking up to remain a campaign issue both nationally and locally.
“I’ve seen this before, and this is about winning the White House, this is about winning seats,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who was not invited to Washington. “I hope science at the end of the day is able to prevail and that we will be able to function as a society where we can at least start getting back to our cherished normal way of life. But there’s no way around it that this is going to be a major issue in the campaigns.”
Few who attended first lady Melania Trump’s speech in the Rose Garden on Tuesday could be seen wearing the face coverings that have become commonplace during the pandemic.
Porter was among the 300 or so delegates who were in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday to nominate Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a second term. Like all delegates, he took an in-home COVID-19 test before heading to Charlotte and was tested again when he arrived.
Porter wore a fob-like tracking device handed out to delegates to trace contacts if someone got sick.
If he does decide to stay home to attend the small, in-person convention watch party with about 40 GOP activists, Porter said the gathering will comply with all Chicago rules on masks and social distancing.
And if he goes to Washington instead, the committeeman said he imagines “that most people, if not everybody will be wearing masks.”
But if not, he’s not going to sweat it.
“I think the risk of infection generally is low,” Porter said.
Durkin said “masks are the right thing to do,” and he hopes science “is able to prevail” over politics.
“Everything is politicized — every small thing, every large thing — and, unfortunately, that is the nature of the DNC and the RNC and, sadly, the pandemic has been politicized,” Durkin, who said he wears a mask whenever he’s out in public, said Wednesday.
Aaron Del Mar, a Trump delegate and Palatine Township Republican committeeman, said he noticed that some at the convention weren’t wearing masks, but he and his family have been doing so.
“I would hope that everyone there would be taking strong social precautions and distancing,” Del Mar said.
Cook County Republican Chairman Sean Morrison said he has no problem with the face coverings, although he doesn’t want the use of masks “mandated by law.”
“There’s too many other things in life and too many other things that are going on with people — people that are unemployed or not working and businesses that are being shut down, and things of that nature,” Morrison said.
For months, Trump resisted wearing a mask, putting one on publicly for the first time in July during a visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in suburban Washington.
He’s acknowledged that masks would be appropriate in indoor settings where people are close together, though he’s also retweeted people who mock Democratic challenger Joe Biden for wearing a mask.
The White House is exempt from the District of Columbia’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. The D.C. Health Department has also mandated wearing a cloth mask “when leaving your home and entering public spaces or areas where you are unable to maintain 6 feet of distance from other people, even if outside.”
As for whether Trump chooses to wear a mask, Durkin said “that’s a decision for him.”
“I think that’s an issue that, at the end of the day, I’m not sure voters are going to be too distracted with that,” Durkin said. “I’m sure they’ll put their focus on other things because this will come to an end.”
Contributing: Lynn Sweet