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Pandemic politics: Maskless Trump visits Michigan Ford plant

YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Pandemic politics shadowed President Trump’s trip to Michigan on Thursday to highlight lifesaving medical devices, with the president and officials from the electoral battleground state clashing over federal aid, mail-in ballots, and face masks.

Trump visited Ypsilanti, outside Detroit, to tour a Ford Motor Co. factory that had been repurposed to manufacture ventilators, the medical breathing machines that governors had begged for during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But his visit came amid a longrunning feud with the state’s Democratic governor and a day after the president threatened to withhold federal funds over the state’s expanded vote-by-mail effort. And, again, the president did not publicly wear a face covering, despite a warning from the state’s top law enforcement officer that a refusal to do so might lead to a ban on Trump’s return.

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All of the Ford executives giving Trump the tour were wearings masks, the president standing alone without one. At one point, he did take a White House-branded mask from his pocket and told reporters he had worn it elsewhere on the tour, out of public view.

“I did not want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,’’ Trump said.

For a moment, he also teasingly held up a clear shield in front of his face. A statement from Ford said that Bill Ford, the company’s executive chairman, “encouraged President Trump to wear a mask when he arrived’’ and said the president wore it during “a private viewing of three Ford GTs from over the years’’ before removing it.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that mask-wearing isn’t just Ford’s policy, it’s also the law in a state that’s among those hardest hit by the virus. Nessel said that if Trump refused to wear a mask Thursday, “he’s going to be asked not to return to any enclosed facilities inside our state.”

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Trump has refused to wear a face mask in public, telling aides he believes it makes him look weak, though it is a practice that federal health authorities say all Americans should adopt to help slow the spread of the virus.

Ford said everyone in its factories must wear personal protective equipment, including masks, and its policy had been communicated to the White House. At least two people who work in the White House and had been physically close to Trump recently tested positive for the virus. Trump is tested daily; he said Thursday he tested negative that morning.

An executive order issued by Governor Gretchen Whitmer requires factories to suspend all nonessential in-person visits, including tours, though Nessel said her office would not bar Trump.

Trump said he and Whitmer had spoken before his tour and in their call discussed the coronavirus pandemic and the catastrophic flooding and evacuations caused by the failure of dams in the state’s central region — not his tweeted threat to withhold federal money.

The flooding submerged houses, washed out roads, and threatened a Superfund site, and Whitmer expressed hope Thursday that the president will soon sign a federal emergency declaration.

Some of the floodwaters from heavy rains that overtook two dams retreated, but much remained underwater, including in Midland, the headquarters of Dow Chemical Co. And floodwaters continued to threaten downstream communities.