Sidney Herald: Senate votes to remove mask mandate for public travel

by Mark Berryman

On Tuesday the U.S. Senate voted 57-40 to overturn a federal requirement that passengers on U.S. airplanes and other modes of public transportation wear masks. The vote comes less than a week after the White House stated it would extend the requirement one month, which was set to expire on March 18. The extension is the third since the mandate was put in place in March 2021.

Montana Senator Steve Daines voiced his support for the measure he cosponsored.

“Biden’s travel mask mandate has been in place for far too long,” Daines said. “I’m glad to see this effort to get rid of Biden’s overreaching travel mask mandate pass the U.S. Senate so that Montanans can start getting their lives back to normal.”

The Congressional Review Act measure (CRA), introduced by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is the latest salvo in a fight between congressional Republicans and the Biden administration over public health requirements related to the pandemic.

Eight Democrats, including Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire voted to oppose the mandate.

About crossing party lines with this vote, Tester said, “We are in a much better place with the pandemic than we were even a few weeks ago, which is why I voted with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to lift the CDC travel mask mandate, because a blanket mandate for all Americans doesn’t make sense at this moment in time.”

Tester also said he still urges caution. “I continue to urge folks to take safety precautions if they choose and for everyone to get vaccinated to protect themselves from this disease so we can keep Montana’s economy and small businesses cooking with gas.”

The president has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk, stating, “the determination of the timeline and circumstances under which masks should be required in these settings should be guided by science, not politics.”

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the lone Republican to vote to retain the mandate.

In late February, the CDC released guidelines suggesting that roughly 70% of Americans could stop wearing masks, depending on the prevalence of the virus in their communities. After the announcement, a number of governors have loosened mask requirements.

“People can sit shoulder to shoulder in restaurants across the land now, without a mask, they can go to shopping centers, they can go to malls – everywhere but an airport, which looks a lot like a shopping mall to me,” Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker said.

Wicker led a March 10 letter signed by 30 other Senate Republicans urging Biden to let the mask mandate expire. On March 9, 90 House Republicans also signed a letter urging the administration to allow the mask mandate to expire on March 18.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., cautioned the Senate not to overrule the mask mandate. Kaine said removing the mandate would be disastrous both to the economy and public health should there be another dangerous COVID-19 variant.

“Don’t use a meat cleaver to bar the CDC from taking necessary public health action should there be a resurgence in COVID,” he said.