President Joe Biden on Thursday issued a clarification after mixing up the federal transportation mask mandate and a pandemic-era restriction at the US border while answering questions from reporters at the White House.
Biden was asked whether he was considering delaying the repeal of Title 42, a pandemic-era order that allows US border officials to immediately turn migrants back to Mexico or their home countries because of a public health crisis.
“No. What I’m considering is continuing to hear from my, my – well, first of all, there’s going to be an appeal by the Justice Department, because as a matter of principle we want to be able to be in a position where if – in fact – it is strongly concluded by the scientists that we need Title 42, that we be able to do that,” Biden said. “But there has been no decision on extending Title 42.”
The answer was confusing because it appeared to echo talking points the administration has been using in response to questions about a federal judge’s decision to strike down the mask mandate on planes, trains and public transportation.
Later on, Biden said he had in fact been talking about the mask mandate rather than Title 42.
“I want to clarify that, in comments at the conclusion of my remarks this morning, I was referring to the CDC’s mask mandate and there is no Department of Justice action on Title 42,” Biden said in a statement.
Officials have said their position on Title 42 hasn’t changed since the administration said the rule would expire May 23.
Many Democratic lawmakers have argued that rescinding Title 42 next month is not enough time for the administration to establish an adequate plan to handle the uptick in migrant crossings that is expected to ensue.
Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly – both Democratic senators from a border state – sent a letter to Biden last month arguing the restriction needed to stay in place until the administration showed it had a clear plan to manage the number of migrants crossing the border. Kelly is facing a competitive reelection in November. Republicans have seized on the repeal and have signaled it will be a key part of their midterm campaign strategy.
Earlier this week, US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle – who was appointed by former President Donald Trump – ruled that the federal transportation mask mandate was unlawful because it exceeded the CDC’s authority and because its implementation violated administrative law. Major US airlines and Amtrak were quick to make masks optional after the administration said the CDC’s mask mandate would no longer be enforced.
The CDC had just last week extended the travel mask mandate through May 3. US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy had said part of the reason was because of increasing Covid-19 cases, which are rising in more than half of the 50 states even though hospitalizations remain low.