White House urges travelers to keep wearing masks after ‘disappointing’ ruling
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the Biden administration still recommends that individuals wear masks on public transit after a judge struck down the federal mask mandate for travel on planes, trains and buses.
Psaki told reporters during the daily briefing that administration officials are “still reviewing” the ruling from a federal judge in Florida, which she called “disappointing.” The press secretary left the door open to the administration appealing the ruling.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), overseas the implementation of the mask mandate. DHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are reviewing the decision, Psaki said.
“They’re reviewing it as we speak. They’re doing it as we speak,” she said when asked if the mask mandate is still in place for travelers.
The press secretary maintained that “it’s safer for individuals who are flying to continue to wear masks,” even as officials review the court decision.
“So, we would say to anyone sitting out there: We’d recommend you wear masks on the airplane. And then as soon as we can provide an update from here hopefully soon,” she said when asked to provide guidance for people in airports watching the press briefing.
Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, an appointee of former President Trump, wrote in her decision on Monday that the CDC exceeded its statutory authority with the order.
“The CDC recommended continuing the order for additional time, two weeks, to be able to access the latest science in keeping with his responsibility to protect the American people. So this is obviously a disappointing decision,” Psaki said.
She also opened the door to a legal response from the Biden administration.
“The Department of Justice would make any determinations about litigation,” she said.
Mizelle’s ruling comes down in part to the definition of the word “sanitation” in the law, saying the CDC failed to follow the rulemaking processes laid out in law and provide a sufficient justification for the mandate.
“I’m not a doctor, you’re not a doctor that I’m aware of,” Psaki said to Fox News’s Peter Doocy when asked why there is no masking guidance inside the White House while the administration recommends people wear masks on public transit.
“This is based on health considerations and data that the CDC looks at about transmissibility as we’ve seen an increase in cases on airplanes,” she added.
Psaki said the White House “encourages calm in all cases” when asked if uncertainty from the ruling could stoke tensions that have been seen on airplanes amid the pandemic as crews attempt to enforce the mask mandate.
The Biden administration last week extended the mandate for all transportation networks by two weeks, through May 3, after it was set to expire on Monday. The extension was from an order by the CDC based off the rise in cases from the BA.2 variant since early April.
The mandate has been in place for 14 months and initially went into effect with an expiration date of May 2021.