CORONAVIRUS

Trump Campaign Aide Defends First Family's Refusal To Wear Masks At Debate

We "believe in some element of individual choice," Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes told "Fox News Sunday."

An adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign on Sunday defended the first family’s decision not to wear masks during the presidential debate on Tuesday, which flouted rules set by the event’s host and agreed to by Trump’s campaign.

During an exchange on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace, who also moderated the debate Tuesday, told Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes that the rules about wearing masks “could not have been more clear.”

“Everyone in the audience was to wear a mask,” Wallace said, referring to health security rules set by the Commission on Presidential Debates and the Cleveland Clinic, and agreed to by the campaigns for Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Though first lady Melania Trump and four of Trump’s children ― Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Tiffany Trump and White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump ― were seen walking into the debate Tuesday wearing masks, they removed them after being seated.

“The president and former vice president and I were the only ones exempt from that,” Wallace continued. “After the first family came in, they all took off their masks. So did the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Do they think that the health and safety rules for everybody else do not apply to them?” 

From left to right: Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump and Donald Tump Jr. are seen without masks at the
From left to right: Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump and Donald Tump Jr. are seen without masks at the first 2020 presidential debate held Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Cortes denied that the Trump family believed the rules did not apply to them.

“No, that’s not the reality,” Cortes said. “Look, everybody was tested before that event ... ”

But Wallace interrupted, stating that it “doesn’t matter” that the Trumps had been tested because the Cleveland Clinic, the health security adviser for the debate, stated that everyone in the audience had to be tested and wear a mask.

Wallaces said a Cleveland Clinic official had offered the Trumps masks to wear during the debate, but the family “waved away” the official. The Commission of Presidential Debates will now escort out any audience member who refuses to wear a mask during upcoming debates, Wallace said.

“Everybody was told to wear a mask,” Wallace told Cortes. “Why did the first family and the chief of staff feel that the rules for everybody else didn’t apply to them?”

Cortes said that while the Trump campaign believes that masks are “useful,” the campaign also believes “in some element of individual choice.”

“We believe that masks are very useful,” Cortes responded. “The president has worn them on many occasions ... We believe in masks. We also believe in some element of individual choice. People were distanced and they had been tested.”

Wallace continued to push back: “No, Steve, they weren’t distanced, and there were rules, and there was no freedom of choice. They broke the rules. ... Why did they break the rules?”

Cortes continued to stand by the Trump family’s decision to flout the rules before accusing Wallace of attacking him.

“Chris, the way you’re starting to harangue me now actually reminds me of what you did to the president during that debate on Tuesday night,” Cortes said. “He had to debate not just Joe Biden but you as well. ... I welcome reasonable questions but what I don’t think is OK is for you to become the effective opposition to the president.”

Wallace objected to the allegation, stating that Trump interrupted Biden and himself 145 times during the course of Tuesday’s debate.

Following the debate, which was universally panned by political commentators and cable news hosts, the CPD announced it would change the format of the remaining debates to “ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”

On Friday, Trump announced that he and the first lady had tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump’s doctors said the president was doing “very well” on Saturday. A day earlier, Trump’s blood oxygen level “rapidly dropped” and he had a fever, causing the president’s doctors to be “very concerned,” Meadows said Saturday.

Cortes said Trump’s senior campaign staff spoke to the president by phone on Saturday and that he seemed “upbeat” and “assertive” at the time. 

“This president is going to recover,” Cortes said. “We are highly confident of that. And again, he is a fighter in every sense of the word, and he is doing really well.”

Watch Cortes’ full appearance on “Fox News Sunday” below. His remarks about the debate begin around the 6-minute mark.