Democrats block GOP bill to lift mask mandate on public transportation

Democrats block GOP bill to lift mask mandate on public transportation
© Greg Nash

Republican Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet House GOP stages mask mandate protest MORE (Utah) were thwarted by Democrats on Wednesday when they attempted to pass a bill that would revoke the Biden administration’s mask requirement on public transportation.

The federal mask mandate for interstate transit is set to expire in September. It requires masks on airplanes, in airports, on buses and on rail systems.

“We cannot pretend this pandemic is over. This virus is still spreading, it is still mutating, it is still costing lives, and it is still leaving survivors with long-haul symptoms. And, the new delta variant is more contagious, likely to send people to the hospital, and already in our country,” Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats consider scaling back new funds to fight next pandemic Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up MORE (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said when she blocked the GOP bill.

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Scott and Lee cited the nation's vaccination rates in arguing that the mask mandate imposes unnecessary expectations and consequences on families and children.

“Now the science is clear that broad mask mandates aren’t necessary. Unfortunately, the CDC has decided to buck the science when it comes to travel and it is still requiring face masks on public transportation,” Scott said on the Senate floor.

“Why is the CDC signally out airlines and public transportation? It doesn’t make any sense,” he added.

The federal mask mandate went into effect in February with an expiration date of May 11, which the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has since extended to Sept. 13. President BidenJoe BidenGOP report on COVID-19 origins homes in on lab leak theory READ: The .2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session MORE signed an executive order on his first full day in office directing federal agencies to “immediately take action” to mandate the use of masks on trains, intercity buses, ferries and in airports.

Scott and Lee introduced their legislation last week, with Rep. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Officers recount the horror of Jan. 6 Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections MORE (R-Texas) sponsoring a companion measure in the House. 

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Scott said on Wednesday that airlines and other private companies should be able to make their own decisions about mandating masks.

Before the mandate expiration date was pushed back to September, airlines and unions lobbied TSA to extend it, arguing that the safety and health of workers and passengers were at risk without the mandate.

“If the airline or other company decides it wants to implement a mask policy, so be it. This does not prohibit them from doing so. I’ve been clear, private companies should be able to make decisions that they feel is appropriate for their employees and their customers,” Scott said.