Biden vows to veto transit mask mandate repeal

Adam Schultz/The White House via AP

Seeing the Senate agree to anything these days with more than 51 votes sounds like a story you’d only see in The Onion, but that’s actually what happened last night. A measure that would force the repeal of the federal face mask mandate for public transit passed by a 57-40 margin. The proposal was supported by 8 Democrats and all of the Republicans except Mitt Romney (of course). Supporters cited the recent CDC guidance saying that 98% of the country is now experiencing low enough COVID transmission rates that indoor masking is no longer required. But President Joe Biden was having none of it, declaring that he would veto the measure if it reaches his desk. Read the room, Joe. (Reuters)

The U.S. Senate voted 57 to 40 on Tuesday to overturn a 13-month-old public health order requiring masks on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, drawing a quick veto threat from President Joe Biden.

Last week, the White House said it would extend the current COVID-19 mask requirements at airports, train stations, ride share vehicles and other transit modes through April 18 but pledged a new review. The order was set to expire on Friday.

The mandate has drawn significant opposition from Republicans who note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week that 98% of Americans live in places where it is safe to ditch indoor masks.

This mandate applies to mass transit, including planes, trains, buses, and ride-share vehicles. Some Democrats explained their opposition to the bill by saying it could prevent the CDC from imposing a new mask mandate if the United States sees a fresh surge in cases when a new variant arises. But isn’t that sort of the point?

Also, do you know who else called for an end to the mask mandate? The airlines and the travel industry did. You’d think that they might have a handle on how this is going over and whether it’s still a productive policy (Assuming it ever actually was productive, which is clearly debatable.) Airline cabin crews have long since grown tired of playing the part of the mask police and dealing with unruly passengers who push back on the rules or even start fights.

The White House is saying that ending the mask mandate should be “guided by science, not politics.” But if that’s the case, what was guiding the CDC when they released their new guidelines? Granted, the CDC did say that masks could help slow the spread of COVID in transport settings, but it sounded like a rather lukewarm endorsement of the idea.

The fact that more than half a dozen Democrats joined in with the GOP to support the bill and a few others sat out the vote seems telling. Those are the Democrats who are in marginal districts and know how to read the polls. A growing majority of Americans are simply done with these mandates and are pushing back against intrusive executive orders enacted in the name of a supposedly temporary health emergency. That matters quite a bit in a midterm year because disgruntled voters tend to either swing the other way or sit out elections.

None of this seems to be sinking in for Joe Biden, however. But then again, why should he care? He’s not up for election until 2024. And there’s a fairly good chance he won’t be seeking another term anyway unless his approval numbers somehow rebound significantly, at least in my opinion. But his party may wind up paying a dear price in November because of these policies and the deteriorating conditions Americans are facing on a daily basis.