Sen. JD Vance’s push to ban mask mandates was shot down by progressive Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., on Thursday, with the New England Democrat arguing that health officials need “freedom to make those decisions.”
Vance, R-Ohio, took to the Senate floor on Thursday to force consideration of his bill, the Freedom to Breathe Act, aimed at banning federal mask mandates in public schools, for domestic air travel, and on public transit. He called for its passage via unanimous consent – a largely symbolic move.
Just one senator’s objection is enough to foil a unanimous consent vote – in this case, Markey stood to oppose it. He called the bill a “red herring” and accused the GOP of caring for “gimmicks over people.”
He broadly conceded the possibility of future mask mandates – and said Americans should once again defer to public health officials on the matter.
“We must protect the freedom for communities to have every public health tool available, if it’s needed in the opinion of the public health officials in that community, in that state. They should be the ones making the decision at the local level looking at the dangers to their population,” Markey said after killing Vance’s bill.
“These numbers are historic – 1,139,000 people have already died. And there’s more coming. And if in the opinion of public health officials, strategies can be adopted using masks that reduced the likelihood that more will die, we should give them that freedom to make those decisions.”
Vance countered that the high number of people killed by COVID came despite active mask mandates and pointed out that his bill did not prevent individuals from wearing masks if they chose.
“Senator Markey mentioned the tragic number of Americans, over 1 million, who lost their lives due to COVID. And I agree it is a tragedy,” Vance said.
“And I wish that we hadn’t lost them, but we lost them in spite of some of the most aggressive masking policies in the world. If mandatory masking were going to save our citizens it would have already done so.”
The debate over masking has been reignited amid a nationwide surge in COVID cases late this summer.
Some scientists have begun to warn Americans to once again cover their faces, while some school districts, businesses and hospital systems in the country have re-introduced mask mandates – a move that’s drawn sharp political divisions.
It’s prompted at least one city, Huntington Beach, California, to preemptively ban mask and other COVID-19 mandates from being enforced on its residents.