Legislation /

Senators Ed Markey and J.D. Vance Spar Over Mask Mandates

Markey called the Ohio Senator's Freedom to Breath Act a 'red herring' and 'misleading'

Two United States senators publicly clashed over the future of mask mandates as federal health agencies warn about a possible reemergence of COVID-19. 

Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio proposed a bill on Sept. 5 prohibiting the federal government from mandating transit organizations or schools require individuals to wear masks. 

The bill, titled the Freedom to Breathe Act, states:

no Federal funds may be obligated or expended to propose, establish, implement, or enforce, directly or indirectly through the imposition of a condition on receipt of Federal funds, any requirement that an individual wear a mask or comply with a mask mandate while traveling as a passenger of an air carrier in the national airspace system, using public transit, or while in any elementary school, secondary school, or institution of higher education.

If passed, the policy would be in effect until December 2024.

“We tried mask mandates once in this country. They failed to control the spread of respiratory viruses, violated basic bodily freedom, and set our fellow citizens against one another,” said Vance in a statement. “This legislation will ensure that no federal bureaucracy, no commercial airline, and no public school can impose the misguided policies of the past.”

“Democrats say they’re not going to bring back mask mandates – we’re going to hold them to their word,” the Republican warned.

Vance forced the Senate to bring his bill to the floor for consideration on Sept. 7. His office said any objection to the senator’s unanimous consent request “would amount to a clear admission that Democrats intend to reimpose mask mandates in the near term.”

Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts objected to the Freedom to Breathe Act. The Democrat argued the policy would inhibit local governments from setting mask regulations that serve the needs of their residents.

“This bill would undermine the ability of states, cities, towns across this country to make decisions about what’s best for their communities,” he said from the Senate floor, per The Hill. “It would silence and hamstring public health experts who have guided our nation out of the darkest days of the pandemic that has killed 1,139,000 people in our country in three years.”

“This bill is a red herring. It is a false debate,” Markey continued. “It’s a distraction. It’s misleading, and it’s meant to distract from what the GOP really stands for right now: gimmicks over people.”

Markey was an advocate for masking throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In November of 2020, he and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut co-sponsored the Encouraging Masks for All Act. The legislation would have granted $5 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to distribute to states that enacted mask requirements. Additionally, the policy authorized $75 million to be awarded to states as grants for the promotion of universal mask-wearing. 

In response to Markey’s objection to his bill, Vance said mask mandates would be a disproportionate response to the possibility of increased illness this winter.

“If mandatory masking were going to save our citizens, it would have already done so,” he said. “The legislation does not prevent any of our citizens from wearing masks. If you would like to wear a mask, of course, you have the right to do so.”

He continued, “We are about to have some serious respiratory problems — we always do in the fall — and maybe it will be worse this fall and this winter than before,” he said. “But I think what our children most of all need … they need us to not be Chicken Little about every single respiratory pandemic and problem that confronts this country.”

Several Republicans have signed on to co-sponsor Vance’s legislation, including Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, Mike Braun of Indiana, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and Katie Britt of Alabama.

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