A Democratic senator blocked a bill introduced by Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio to ban a federal mask mandate across the United States on Thursday.
The Freedom to Breathe Act, which would prohibit any federal mask mandate from being imposed on an airplane, public transit system or educational institution across the United States until the end of 2024, was introduced by Vance on Wednesday. Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts intervened after Vance attempted to pass the bill by unanimous consent, and claimed that local authorities should have the ability to impose mask mandates when required.
“The bill would undermine the ability of states, cities and towns across this country to make decisions about what’s best for their communities,” said Markey in remarks prior to his objection. “It would silence and hamstring public health experts who have guided our nation out of the darkest days of a pandemic that has killed 1,139,000 people in our country in three years,” he added.
“Doctors and experts are saying that Covid is coming back,” Markey noted.
Markey also accused Vance of hypocrisy regarding the bill, pointing to the GOP’s previous advocacy for states’ rights.
“This bill would violate a long-held belief in the Republican Party that states and localities should not be told what to do by a federal government removed from the realities that they’re seeing on the ground in their neighborhoods,” he said.
Vance’s bill would not ban state-imposed mask mandates, but would prohibit any federal funding from being used to enforce such a mandate, according to its text. It would also ban airlines, transit operators and educational administrators from excluding a passenger or student from their service merely because they’ve refused to wear a mask.
“A generation of schoolchildren have suffered speech and developmental disabilities because this country panicked instead of using its brain and forced toddlers and small children to wear masks,” Vance said.
Responding to Markey’s objection, Vance said that “we lost [Americans] in spite of some of the most aggressive masking policies in the world. If mandatory masking were to save our citizens, it would have already done so.”
He added that the legislation would not ban citizens from wearing masks on their own accord.
“Freedom is fundamentally respecting that you might have a different view than I do … not using government mandates to force our citizens,” Vance noted. “Our kids need us to not be chicken little about every respiratory illness.”
“End the mandates. End the panic. Let’s get back to common sense,” Vance concluded.
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