U.S. Senate votes to overturn transit mask mandate; Biden vows veto

2 minute read
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

WASHINGTON, March 15 (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.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Republican Senator Rand Paul, who led the repeal effort, said the vote "sent a message to unelected government bureaucrats to stop the anti-science, nanny state requirement of travel mask mandates."

The CDC order said the mask mandate could help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in crowded transport settings.

The repeal vote fell shy of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a Biden veto. The White House said Tuesday "circumstances under which masks should be required in these settings should be guided by science, not politics."

Eight Democrats joined all but one Republican - Senator Mitt Romney - in voting to reject the rule.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine said the vote was dangerous because it would not only bar the existing CDC order but prevent the agency from imposing future mask rules.

He noted the COVID upsurge in China and parts of Europe and asked what happens if the United States faced a new variant. "Wouldn't we want the CDC to have the power immediately upon an upsurge of COVID nationally to impose a mask requirement on transportation?" Kaine asked.

Airlines and travel groups have called for a repeal.

The mask requirements have resulted in significant friction on U.S. airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration says since January 2021, there have been a record 6,800 unruly passenger incidents reported - and 70% involved masking rules.

The CDC transit order has been in place since soon after Biden took office in January 2021. His predecessor Donald Trump had rejected it.

Last month, the CDC said it would no longer require masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems. Travelers are allowed to remove masks briefly to eat or drink.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by David Shepardson and Moira Warburton in Washington Editing by Chris Reese and Tim Ahmamnn

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.