MADISON, Wis. (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday canceled his two weekend campaign rallies in Wisconsin after testing positive for COVID-19, while Republicans in the battleground state showed no signs of backing down in their attempts to undo the mask mandate imposed by the Democratic governor.
On Friday, hours after Trump announced he had tested positive, Republicans who control the Legislature filed a motion in support of a lawsuit that seeks to undo a statewide mask order issued by Gov. Tony Evers. A hearing on the case was scheduled for Monday.
Coronavirus cases are surging in Wisconsin, which ranks third nationwide in new COVID-19 cases per capita over the past two weeks, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. Wisconsin has broken daily records for new cases and deaths in recent days. On Friday, 20% of the tests came back as positive, and the seven-day average of new cases was 2,439, continuing a rapid increase that began a month ago when the seven-day average was 695.
The state’s chief medical officer said Tuesday that Wisconsin was in “crisis.”
Evers, along with local health and elected officials, had urged Trump to reconsider the Saturday rallies in Green Bay and Janesville hours before he tested positive. Trump’s rallies typically attract thousands of people, most of whom don’t wear masks despite guidance from state and federal health officials that is an effective way to slow the spread of the virus.
Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which is suing Evers over the mask mandate, showed no signs of backing down despite Trump’s diagnosis. The lawsuit claims Evers did not have the legal authority to issue repeated emergency declarations and mask orders.
“No governor has the authority to rule by decree indefinitely by declaring one emergency after another,” Esenberg said. “There is no pandemic exception to the rule of law or our Constitution. If the governor believes a mask mandate is required, there are lawful ways to pursue one.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan pointed to Trump’s diagnosis Friday in a call for Republicans to drop the lawsuit.
Republicans successfully sued to end the governor’s “safer at home” order in May. The state’s health secretary, Andrea Palm, on Tuesday blamed that action as contributing to the state’s rapid spike in cases. The surge has also corresponded with college campuses and K-12 schools re-opening in the fall, although the state’s two two largest districts in Madison and Milwaukee remain virtual only.
Evers and Palm said Republicans’ actions have limited the state’s ability to mitigate outbreaks and led to too many people feeling they could go without wearing masks or avoiding large gatherings. Evers has repeatedly blamed Trump and state GOP leaders who control the Legislature for not taking the virus seriously enough.
“We have to have people that believe that this is not a hoax, that this is a real thing, and that people are dying from this disease,” Evers said Tuesday. “It’s unacceptable that we just blow it off.”
Republican legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
While Wisconsin Democrats wished Trump a fast and full recovery, some also said his diagnosis pointed to the need to take the virus seriously.
“If you weren’t taking this seriously, maybe you will now,” Pocan tweeted. “Wear a mask. Social distance. Avoid large crowds. Ignorance or arrogance or denial can be costly.”
Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. As for the political ramifications of his diagnosis in the swing state, Republican strategist Brian Reisinger urged patience.
“Don’t believe any political punditry for the next 24 hours at least,” Reisinger tweeted Friday. “Nobody knows.”
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