President Donald Trump on Tuesday night mocked Democrat rival Joe Biden for wearing a face mask during the Covid-19 pandemic, as he addressed thousands of tightly packed together supporters – many of whom were not wearing face coverings – at a campaign rally in the key swing state of Pennsylvania.
Just days after virus deaths topped 200,000 in the US – the highest total anywhere in the world – Mr Trump used his speech at Pittsburgh International Airport to castigate Mr Biden, 77, over his decision to protect himself and others from the disease.
“He feels good about the mask, and that’s OK," said the president to racous applause. "Whatever makes you feel good. Honestly, why the hell did he spend all that money on the plastic surgery if he’s going to cover it up with a mask?”
It came just hours after Mr Trump, 74, described the US coronavirus death toll as a "shame". Speaking to reporters at the White House before departing for Pittsburgh, the president claimed that without his intervention in the crisis, fatalities would be far higher.
“I think if we didn’t do it [manage the pandemic] properly and do it right, you’d have 2.5 million deaths," he said, when asked about the 200,000 milestone. The president has often deflected questions on the US death toll by criticising other countries such as China, where it is thought the pandemic began.
Mr Trump this week also doubled down on a false claim that the US is handling the coronavirus crisis better than European countries, many of which have seen an uptick in confirmed cases following the summer months.
While many European countries have seen a resurgence of the virus, the number of cases and deaths per day and the transmission rate is currently far higher in the United States, when adjusted to account for population size.
During Tuesday night's rally, the president also took a swipe at journalists who got injured during Black Lives Matter demonstrations in recent months. "Remember that beautiful sight? The street was a mess," said Mr Trump, referencing an incident when the journalist Ali Velshi got wounded.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2020
"That idiot reporter from CNN got hit on the knee with a can of tear gas, right? And he went down. 'I’ve been hit. I’ve been hit.'" Mr Velshi works for MSNBC and was hit with a rubber bullet.
The president also praised his old adversary Mitt Romney, who has voiced his support for moving ahead with replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court Justice who died on Friday. Mr Romney's decision means Senate Republicans now have the numbers needed to ensure that the president's pick to succeed Ginsburg will face a confirmation vote.
According to Pennsylvania state coronavirus guidelines, outdoor gatherings of more than 250 people are prohibited. Photos from the Trump rally appear to show crowds in well in excess of that number. Face masks are required in all public spaces. The Independent has contacted the Trump campaign for comment.