Democrat Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) has suggested the Senate introduce a resolution urging the Biden administration to pull back its federal mask mandate, concluding that agencies are sometimes “a little too precautionary.”
President Joe Biden took executive action immediately after assuming office, requiring individuals to wear masks for modes of international and domestic travel, including airports, commercial aircraft, trains, ferries, bus services, and “forms of public transportation as defined in section 5302 of title 49, United States Code.” On January 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) detailed an order “requiring the wearing of masks by people on public transportation conveyances or on the premises of transportation hubs to prevent spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus].”
However, states, including several blue states, have pulled back their statewide mask mandates. Some of those decisions — particularly for blue states — coincide with the CDC guidance stating that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks. Major retailers followed suit, pulling back their mask policies while continuing to urge unvaccinated people to wear masks.
But now, several senators believe the Biden administration needs to follow suit. Schatz, a Democrat, suggested the Senate introduce a “sense of the Senate” resolution which according to Roll Call “would encourage the Biden administration to reconsider its rule, acknowledging that while the agencies are the experts on issues, they ‘are not infallible.'”
“Sometimes they move slowly,” Schatz said, according to the outlet. “Sometimes they’re a little too precautionary.”
Republican senators, particularly, want the Biden administration to take action. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) has introduced the Stop Mandating Additional Requirements for Travel (SMART) Act, which would effectively bar the government from requiring mask mandates on public transportation.
According to Roll Call, “In a markup of rail and safety legislation on Wednesday, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee rejected along party lines an amendment introduced by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., that would end the mandate…”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) is among those who supported the amendment, stating, “I think we should express the sense of this committee that what is being foisted on us now in the name of science is hogwash”:
Hours later, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg why travelers on airplanes were required to wear masks while those gathered in crowded airport bars were not.
She said she asked because of a recent conversation with two flight attendants who expressed concern about passengers who had become violent because of the mandate. The Federal Aviation Administration has received reports of about 2,500 unruly passengers this year.
Buttigieg, however, said there is an inter-agency process at play.
“I share the impatience to be able to return to where they’re not required,” he said, adding that it is “something we need to continue to revisit.”
“And while I haven’t seen … a specific rubric that says if we hit this benchmark we can say goodbye to the masks, which we’re all eager to do, I do think it’s of course true that the sooner we get as many people as possible vaccinated, the sooner we can get there,” he added.