Sounds to me from this answer today in New Hampshire like he’s leaning that way. There’s no way to square a mandate with wanting passengers to decide for themselves whether to mask.
Is this it, then? Could “the new normal” of endemic COVID be here at last?
REPORTER: "Mr. President, should people continue to wear masks on planes?"
BIDEN: "That's up to them." pic.twitter.com/5ueNG9XIMT
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) April 19, 2022
Remember, when he got his second booster shot a few weeks ago, Biden all but declared the pandemic phase of COVID over. He’s been looking for a way to show swing voters that he delivered on his promise to restore America to a pre-COVID normal. And now an opportunity has been served to him on a silver platter. I think he’s inclined to take it.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen repeatedly during his presidency, the president doesn’t really set policy for his administration. The White House does. Just minutes after he declared in Warsaw that Putin can’t remain in power, his staff scrambled to assure reporters that the U.S. does not seek Putin’s removal from power. The mask mandate on planes and trains may fall into the same category. It’s up to passengers whether to wear their masks, says the geriatric commander-in-chief — while his press secretary sounds a different note:
WH Press Sec. Jen Psaki says the Department of Justice may still appeal Florida court decision overturning national transportation mask mandate:
“Public health decisions shouldn’t be made by the courts. They should be made by public health experts.” pic.twitter.com/ezADxoP0Q5
— The Recount (@therecount) April 19, 2022
If I had to bet on whether the president or his press secretary speaks for the Biden administration here, I’d bet on her. The White House’s new COVID czar, Ashish Jha, also doesn’t sound thrilled with the court ruling that Biden seems poised to acquiesce in:
24 hours ago, a federal judge vacated @CDCgov mask mandate on airplanes
This was deeply disappointing
CDC scientists had asked for 15 days to make a more data-driven durable decision
We should have given it to them
But I'll continue to follow CDC guidance & mask up on planes
— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@AshishKJha46) April 19, 2022
“The real question here is what does this mean for the CDC’s power to reimpose a mask mandate?” said Celine Gounder, who’s advised Biden’s team on COVID in the past, about the prospect of not appealing the ruling. “Say if we have another big surge next fall or winter or say we have another pandemic, so I do think you’re likely to see this decision to appeal to preserve those CDC powers for that what-if scenario.” I raised that point myself in this morning’s post but as an argument for why *not* appealing might make more sense right now. If mandates are destined to come back at some point and land before the Supreme Court, wouldn’t the White House rather fight that battle at a moment when the threat from COVID is high rather than low? SCOTUS will be less likely to deny the CDC an administrative power when the argument is stronger that the public is benefiting from the exercise of that power.
Biden’s also going to be pressured to appeal by the media, of course, most of whom are pro-restriction safety-first-ers. Chuck Todd implied today that Biden is a wimp if he doesn’t challenge the ruling:
Chuck Todd: "There's a pattern here. Joe Biden can get rolled. That’s what it looks like here in Washington… this is an administration that, you know, push back hard enough, they don’t push back at you." pic.twitter.com/VgkVuVSZ3v
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) April 19, 2022
He’s a wimp to the left if he doesn’t appeal and “fight back” against the Trump judge’s ruling, but he’s already a wimp to the right because it took a Trump judge to finally get rid of the mandate for him. Why didn’t the White House and the CDC suspend the mandate on their own initiative given how unpopular it is and how small the benefits of mask-wearing on flights appear to be? Charles Cooke wonders:
So thrilled by the judge’s decision were America’s beleaguered airlines that most of them chose to broadcast the news mid-flight, where it was met by a supermajority of passengers with the sort of glee that has usually been reserved for the end of a war. Had he been smart, Joe Biden could have owned that glee. Instead, it came in spite of him, courtesy of a Republican-appointed judge, from — of all places — Florida.
Why? What did Biden get for his recalcitrance? An extra two or three weeks of a policy that everyone has known for a while was absurd? For months, it has been obvious that there is a big gap between what people are willing to tell pollsters about their attitude toward Covid and what people will actually do when given a free choice. Normal people have been able to sense this. Joe Biden has not — even as his approval ratings have dropped inexorably into the mire. He didn’t notice it when the Senate voted 57 to 40 to end the transit mandate. He didn’t notice it when vulnerable Democrats in the House began to tell journalists that they were in favor of “whatever gets rid of mask mandates as quickly as possible.” He didn’t notice it when SNL — yes, even SNL — started making fun of progressive hysteria over masks. Now, it is too late.
Declining to appeal the ruling now would arguably leave Biden in the worst of all worlds, failing to impress the right since he’s not responsible for the change to the mandate policy while alienating the left because he won’t do anything to reinstate a policy they support. So that’s an argument that he *should* appeal, I guess: At least he’ll satisfy his own base by doing so. It’s just the other, you know, 70 percent of the country that’ll be annoyed if he does.
But since a 6-3 conservative Court is likely to strike down the mandate anyway, maybe that 70 percent won’t hold the appeal against him. All’s well that ends well, right? And meanwhile lefties will be grateful that he fought for their position. Stay tuned.
Update: That didn’t take long. Like I say, Biden doesn’t set policy for his own administration.
Biden's HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra says the Biden administration will "likely" appeal the federal ruling striking down Biden's mask mandate.
Earlier today, Biden said it was "up to [individuals]" to decide for themselves. pic.twitter.com/OnCNgdsKOj
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) April 19, 2022
Update: Uh, is this a punt? It sounds like Biden and the DOJ are dropping the decision on whether to appeal squarely in the laps of the CDC:
New Statement on Mask Mandate Ruling pic.twitter.com/SwYHIqTG2e
— Anthony Coley (@AnthonyColeyDOJ) April 19, 2022
That’s poor leadership but a clever way by the White House to try to appease their base. They’ll appeal if “the science” warrants continuing the mandate. But if the CDC decides that “the science” will tolerate maskless flights, then the appeal is canceled. Either way, blame the CDC rather than Biden for the outcome.
I have a feeling that anti-maskers *will* be blaming Biden if the CDC chooses to appeal and the mandate ends up being reinstated. Good luck in November, Joe.
Update: Ah, noteworthy:
CDC has concluded that mask order is necessary, per @PeteWilliamsNBC. DOJ will appeal, but will not seek an emergency stay of the judge’s ruling, so the mandate will not be in place while the appeal proceeds.
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) April 19, 2022
The masks stay off while the appeal plays out, assuming there’s an appeal at all. And since it’s highly likely that Biden will lose before SCOTUS, that means the mask mandate almost certainly isn’t coming back.