President Joe Biden said Tuesday his administration is “checking” whether he can intervene in states where mask mandates are prohibited.
Biden made the comment in response to a question raised during a news conference on the Senate’s passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“Do you have presidential powers to intervene in states like Texas and Florida where they are banning mask mandates?” Biden was asked, according to a transcript of the news conference.
“I don’t believe that I do thus far. We’re checking that,” Biden replied. “We — but there are on — federal workforce, I can.
“And I think that people should understand, seeing little kids — I mean, four, five, six years old — in hospitals, on ventilators, and some of them passing — not many, but some of them passing — it’s almost, I mean, it’s just — well, I should not characterize beyond that,” he said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order comes with a fine of up to $1,000 for officials or local governments trying to enact a mask mandate. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is threatening to withhold funding from school boards that force masks on students.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously said vaccinated individuals do not need to wear a mask.
However, the CDC reversed course late last month, recommending that vaccinated people wear a mask indoors in some places due to the spread of the delta variant.
Since then, local governments across the U.S. have begun reimposing mask mandates, sparking conflicts in states where such mandates are banned.
Last week, Biden called out Abbott and DeSantis for refusing to repeal their bans.
“If you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people that are trying to do the right thing,” the president said, according to KXAS-TV.
“Look, we need leadership from everyone. If some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it,” Biden continued.
Some local authorities have started to challenge the bans.
In Texas, Dallas and Bexar counties successfully sued to institute temporary mask mandates in public schools and government buildings, The Texas Tribune reported.
“We are all team public health and the enemy is the virus,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. “Right now, the enemy is winning.”
Officials in Travis County proceeded with a mask mandate without bothering to challenge Abbott’s order in court, the Tribune reported.
Some of the largest Texas school districts, including Austin, Houston and Fort Worth, are making plans to mandate masks in schools.
“The rebellion is spreading across the state,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
As for Florida, one school board voted to require masks in what seems to be a challenge to DeSantis’ executive order.
The Broward County School Board on Tuesday voted 8-1 to force students to don masks, WFOR-TV reported.
“We took an oath to protect the citizens of Broward County. We feel masks must be worn in close quarters where people are gathering and they can not social distance,” School Board Chair Dr. Rosalind Osgood said.
“We hope that the federal government will come to our aid. I know if I don’t get paid I know my community is very resilient. People’s lives are invaluable, even if it means to me that I am not going to receive a paycheck.”
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