President Donald Trump on Thursday will visit a suburban Detroit Ford plant that the automaker has been using to boost the supply of the medical-grade personal protection equipment that has been in short supply during a coronavirus pandemic that has so far killed more than 90,000 Americans.
Ford has launched production of powered respirators and other forms of PPE at several suburban Detroit facilities. The plant the president will visit in Rawsonville, Michigan, a half-hour west of Detroit, currently produces masks for doctors, nurses and other first responders.
The automaker confirmed the visit late Sunday night, subsequently telling TheDetroitBureau.com that Trump will be required to wear appropriate personal protection gear, starting with a mask, during his visit to the facility. That could create a problem, however. Both the president and Vice President Mike Pence have come under fire for failing to wear masks while visiting other medical operations, including another mask plant and the Mayo Clinic. Trump also does not wear a mask during his televised coronavirus events, unlike some other participants.
Asked if the president will have to wear a mask this time, a spokesperson for Ford replied in an e-mail to TheDetroitBureau.com that, “Our policy is that everyone wears PPE to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We shared all of Ford’s safety protocols, including our manufacturing playbook, employee pamphlet and self-assessment survey with the White House ahead of time and in preparation for this trip.”
Ford has been producing various forms of personal protection equipment since April when it offered to help deal with shortages that forced many doctors and nurses to resort to using bandanas and other makeshift gear. The automaker also is producing a powered respirator at a plant in Flat Rock, south of Detroit. The device makes use of fans and batteries normally used in Ford vehicles, including the F-150 pickup.
“The White House asked to visit Ford’s Rawsonville plant in Ypsilanti, Mich(igan), as part of the President’s tour to thank businesses producing PPE and important medical equipment,” Ford said in a statement on Sunday. “We’re proud to assemble more vehicles in the U.S. than any other automaker and welcome Thursday’s visit as part of Ford’s longstanding history of hosting sitting presidents and senior government leaders.”
Ford officials are clearly pleased to be on the president’s good side. The automaker has come in for repeated criticism since Trump began his campaign for the White House. Among other things, he has targeted the automaker for producing vehicles in Mexico and China, some of which are for sale in the U.S.
The trip appears to be meant not only to mend fences with Ford but also to better position the president who has received widespread criticism for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, including the initially severe shortage of PPE.
Michigan, meanwhile, is one of the states that helped Trump eke out a win for the presidency in 2016 – and, according to political analysts, is expected to be crucial to his re-election bid this year. He carried Michigan by just 10,000 votes four years ago and has been lagging in a number of recent polls behind Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
In January, Trump visited an automotive parts plant run by the Dana Corp. in the Detroit suburb of Warren. At the time he made one of his first references to the coronavirus, telling his audience “We think we have it very well under control.”
This will be the president’s third visit to a key battleground state in recent weeks. He visited a Honeywell plant in Arizona being used to produce N95 masks on May 5, later traveling to a PPE distribution center in Pennsylvania. But, in neither case did Trump wear any protective gear himself. Nor did Vice President Pence during a widely covered visit to the Mayo Clinic.
The vice president is soon expected to travel to Florida to meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss that state’s phased reopening. He also will hold a roundtable with hospitality and tourism industry leaders to discuss the impact they have felt from the pandemic. Pence officially serves as the leader of the administration’s coronavirus task force.
The White House has not yet responded to a request from TheDetroitBureau.com to comment on whether Pres. Trump will honor Ford’s requirement to wear a mask while visiting its Michigan plant on Thursday.
(Joseph Szczesny contributed to this report.)