In a mainly symbolic vote, the Senate approved legislation to repeal the federal mask rule on airlines and public transportation, highlighting Republicans’ hostility to the White House’s pandemic measures.
Senators voted 57-40 on Tuesday to approve a resolution (S. J. Res. 37) by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to repeal the mask mandate on public transit. Republicans are hoping that significant opposition would persuade the White House to reconsider the mandate, which was due to expire on March 18 but was extended last week to April 18. The bill was supported by eight Democrats.
A bipartisan vote “would go a long way toward showing the administration that the public is on our side,” said ranking member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). He appeared at a news conference with fellow Senate Republicans on Tuesday before of the vote.
The bill would make use of the Congressional Review Act, which permits Congress to try to overturn federal agency rules through accelerated procedures. The Senate vote needs just a simple majority to succeed, but if put to a vote in the House, it would almost certainly be defeated. The White House has also promised to reject it if it passes.
The decision comes on the heels of identical Senate motions to cancel the Covid-19 public health emergency (S. J. Res. 38) and to mandate vaccines for health-care workers (S. J. Res. 32), exposing party splits over how to deal to the epidemic. In January 2022, airline customers wearing face masks wait to receive their bags from a baggage carousel at Harry Reid International Airport.
The Transit Security Administration said last week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is modifying its guidance on when and how mask requirements can be relaxed on public transportation. The rising Republican pressure, along with reduced masking laws in some states and colleges, might affect the Biden administration’s next measures, even if case counts fluctuate.
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Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) called the CDC’s approach “quite sensible,” but urged senators to vote against the resolution since it would not only stop the mask order, but might also strip the CDC of its ability to enforce a new requirement.
“What if a new variation emerges and begins to wreak havoc more generally across the country?” Wouldn’t we want the CDC to have the authority, in the event of a nationwide outbreak of Covid, to enforce a mask requirement on transportation?” Kaine stated this on the Senate floor on Tuesday. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) believes that Americans should follow the same mask regulations as members of Congress during the State of the Union address.
Attendees to President Joe Biden’s address to Congress on March 1 were not required to wear masks, but they were required to present a negative test. “If a grandma is flying to meet her grandchildren, she is instructed, ‘Put that mask on,'” Cruz explained. “It doesn’t make any sense.” In a letter coordinated by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, more than 40 House Republicans asked the CDC to “immediately withdraw” the mandate (R-Mo.).
“Continued use of masks on public transportation is unscientific and unnecessary,” the congressmen wrote to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Republicans are also suing the CDC to repeal the flight mask regulation.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) joined a group of more than a dozen Republican lawmakers in filing a lawsuit in federal district court this week, asking the courts to determine that the mask mandate is outside the CDC’s power. Last week, dozens of Republican senators wrote to Biden, pressing him to repeal the testing requirements for travel to the United States as well as the federal mask rule for transportation.