Great question. That’s one reason why Politico noticed this morning that Democrats have remained awfully quiet on the CDC’s new 15 Days To Stop Air Travelers From Feeling Comfort. We’ll get to that in a moment, but Kyrsten Sinema has decided not to stay quiet on this point at all. If the pandemic still is enough of a public-health threat in super-controlled commercial airline environments, then why is the Biden administration about to lift pandemic controls at the border?
SINEMA says extension of mask mandate on planes/public transit means Title 42 should remain:
"The Administration’s extension of public health emergency authorities proves the need to delay lifting Title 42 to protect the health and safety of Arizona communities and migrants"
— Jacqui Heinrich (@JacquiHeinrich) April 14, 2022
That’s the question other Democrats are avoiding, Politico reports:
Democrats staying silent on the issue is no accident. The party has been trying to move on from pandemic-related mandates for weeks now, in a bid to show far things have come since the beginning of the 2020 lockdown. Rallying to the defense of public transit mandates, as much as most Dems would probably agree, might risk undercutting that message.
Republicans aren’t letting Joe Biden off the hook, however:
Biden Admin extends airplane mask mandate due to concerns about Covid. But it's terminating Title 42 at the S border bc threat of Covid supposedly doesn't justify it anymore. Completely hypocritical If Americans are still bound by Covid policies shouldn’t our border be too???
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) April 13, 2022
This is absurd and incredibly out of touch. The Biden admin is extending the mask mandate for Americans on planes, but it’s planning to end Title 42 pandemic restrictions at the border. You can’t have it both ways, @POTUS. https://t.co/MWyE3MqbCA
— Senator John Thune (@SenJohnThune) April 13, 2022
The Biden Administration announced it will repeal Title 42 at the southern border (because COVID-19 is over) while extending the transportation mask mandate for Americans (because COVID-19 isn’t over). https://t.co/gihgOP9IBB
— Jim Risch (@SenatorRisch) April 13, 2022
Even before this, some grumbling had emerged from Democrats over Biden’s intent to lift Title 42. Sinema’s colleague Mark Kelly announced yesterday that he would co-sponsor a bill that would “postpone” any such attempt:
Senator Mark Kelly says it’s easy to see lifting Title 42 will lead to a surge of immigrants, but he does not see any sign of a plan to handle the surge.
“I warned them about this months ago, talking to CBP about it and the Department of Homeland Security, and they do not have a plan in place on how to deal with the increased numbers. And it’s going to be … to be honest, it’s going to be a crisis on top of a crisis.” ~Senator Mark Kelly
Sen. Kelly says he needs to see a plan for everything from buses for moveing [sic] migrants, to places to house them, to more judges hearing their asylum requests.
He’s pushing legislation to postpone lifting Title 42 until those plans exist.
The New Republic reported last week that vulnerable Democrats in particular — including Kelly — had begun openly objecting to the Title 42 move:
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that it would lift a Trump-era policy that used the coronavirus pandemic to limit border crossings, it drew plaudits from immigration rights advocates—but also put the Biden administration at loggerheads with Democratic senators, several of whom face tough reelections in November. …
The five Democrats co-sponsoring the bill include a trio of moderates—Senators Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin, and John Tester—and two others facing difficult reelections, Mark Kelly and Maggie Hassan. An additional pair of senators locked in toss-up races, Raphael Warnock and Catherine Cortez Masto, are not co-sponsoring the bill but have also criticized the administration’s decision to lift Title 42. A bipartisan group of House members introduced companion legislation in that chamber this week.
Democratic dissent over the plan to end Title 42 has already had repercussions, hindering efforts this week to pass legislation authorizing $10 billion in additional coronavirus relief funding. The administration has said that it needs more money for testing and treatments and to ward off another surge. But Republicans demanded a vote on an amendment blocking the administration from lifting Title 42. The likelihood that it would have garnered significant Democratic support prompted leadership to hold off on the legislation for at least two weeks as the lawmakers recess.
Republicans argue that if the Biden administration believes more coronavirus funding is necessary, it should not rescind a policy ostensibly aimed at reducing the spread of virus. “Democrats don’t act like they think Covid is finished,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “They give speeches daily about the need for more funding. They say we should be sending health assistance around the world. The only place on the planet where Democrats say Covid is over is on our southern border.”
The move by the CDC to extend the mask mandates on airplanes while simultaneously providing Biden cover for opening the border will likely be the last straw. There is simply no way to defend both recommendations at the same time. American levels of vaccination in the population (as well as immunity by exposure) outstrip the Central American countries that comprise most of the border surge. If the pandemic is still acute enough to warrant imposing masks on all travelers inside the US, why would we risk allowing travelers outside the US with unknown vaccination and exposure statuses to enter without restriction? On what “science” would that be based — other than “political” science, the kind most often practiced at the CDC?
Small wonder Democrats have kept quiet about the CDC’s extension of the mask mandate. It’s indefensible, and they all know it. Only a handful of them are willing to point out the hypocrisy, unfortunately.
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