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U.S. President Joe Biden touches his face mask as he steps off Air Force One upon arrival at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Hagerstown, Maryland on April 14, 2022. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden DOJ Will Fight for Travel Mask Mandate If CDC Says It's Still Needed

The announcement came after the president—when asked if Americans should wear masks on planes—said, "That's up to them."

Jessica Corbett

The Biden administration on Tuesday signaled a willingness to challenge a U.S. judge's decision to strike down its mask mandate for public transportation if federal health officials determine the policy is still necessary at this stage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a statement from spokesperson Anthony Coley after Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, appointed by former President Donald Trump to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, declared the mandate unlawful.

"The Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disagree with the district court's decision and will appeal, subject to CDC's conclusion that the order remains necessary for public health," Coley said. "The department continues to believe that the order requiring masking in the transportation corridor is a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health. That is an important authority the department will continue to work to preserve."

Coley noted that on April 13, "before the district court's decision, CDC explained that the order would remain in effect while it assessed current public health conditions, and that the Transportation Security Administration would extend its directive implementing the order until May 3 to facilitate CDC's assessment."

The DOJ's pledge to file an appeal if CDC concludes a mandate is still needed came shortly after President Joe Biden was asked whether Americans should wear masks on planes and responded, "That's up to them."

According to CNN's DJ Judd, asked whether he plans to appeal the ruling out of Florida, Biden told reporters that he hadn't yet spoken to the CDC.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was more directly critical of the new ruling and, like the DOJ, pointed out to reporters that the CDC has been reviewing current conditions.

"Public health decisions shouldn't be made by the courts, they should be made by public health experts," Psaki said. "We obviously feel confident in our authorities here given that we put the mask mandate in place and asked for 15 additional days to evaluate data based on public health information."

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House's newly appointed Covid-19 response coordinator, said on Twitter Tuesday that the right-wing judge's move "was deeply disappointing."

"CDC scientists had asked for 15 days to make a more data-driven durable decision. We should have given it to them," Jha added. "But I'll continue to follow CDC guidance and mask up on planes."

Polling released last month by Monmouth University found that though just over a third of Americans support instituting or reinstituting face mask and social distancing guidelines, down from 52% in January, "a majority of Democrats continue to back vaccine (69%) and mask (60%) mandates, while at the same time saying they support the CDC relaxing its Covid guidance (67%)."

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