How The Biden Administration Is Poised To Win By Letting The Mask Mandate Expire

When a federal district court judge struck down the transportation mask mandate, the Biden administration had several options. For instance,

  • They could have sought a stay of the ruling
  • They could have asked airlines – whom they regulate, heavily – to keep the mask mandate in place, pending further adjudication (airlines generally would not dare to say no, knowing what’s good for them)

They didn’t do that. They accepted the ruling and announced they would not enforce the mandate. Airlines quickly lifted their own mask requirements.

There’s now been a lot of reporting saying the administration will appeal, but the statement from the administration actually defers to the CDC saying they’ll appeal if the CDC says this is necessary. That’s important.

  • The Biden administration needed the mask mandate to end sometime this summer at the latest, heading into the midterm elections. They don’t want to represent ‘the party of continued restrictions’ but rather ‘the party that is restoring the country from the pandemic’.

  • At the same time they didn’t want to be responsible for prematurely declaring victory, relaxing a restriction before cases rise (as they’re beginning to, though it is not at all clear towards what level). So they were in an awkward spot, remembering all to well the declaration of freedom from the pandemic last July 4th.

How they’re threading this is interesting. They can’t look weak! They disagree with the ruling, but they’ll defer to the CDC on whether the mandate is still needed to determine if they appeal. They also don’t want to lose on appeal, this district court ruling will have little precedential value. And the Supreme Court signaled strongly in last summer’s Alabama Association of Realtors v. HHS that the CDC’s authorizing statute should be read narrowly.

The Administration certainly had every ability to get the CDC’s point of view on this. But they’re deferring to the agency, ‘being guided by the science’, even though the agency had already spoken.

The agency can now say that the mandate isn’t necessary, so they’re not weak for not fighting the ruling. And the mask requirement was lifted by the court, so they don’t look bad as cases rise.

That’s a charitable read of the Administration which treats them as competent political actors, navigating a difficult electoral environment. If they do decide to appeal, having not sought a stay and having allowed the mandate to lapse, then they’ll have just massively bungled this.

Because allowing the country to fly maskless for a few days, and re-imposing mask rules after that when cases are still very low by standards of the past six months (though rising), hospitalizations at their lowest level of the pandemic, and better treatments not just approved but available then creates two problems,

  1. Trying to get compliance in the midst of confusion and industry opposition, while appearing inept – the President himself said on Tuesday’s it’s up to travelers if they wear a mask when they travel or not.
  2. Being unable to articulate an off ramp, if masking in planes but not bars makes sense now when we’re not trying to ‘protect hospital capacity’ or ‘delay infection until we have treatments and vaccines’ then what’s the point at which an end to masking rules is possible?

The smart political move is to let the CDC say they’ve examined hospitalization data and the state of new variants and the mask rule can expire, subject to new developments that might warrant its reinstatement. And the people in charge at the White House aren’t dumb.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. No doubt about it. The Federal Judge in Florida let the Biden Administration “off the hook” regarding the mask mandate.

    If there are minimal new infections linked to air travel, then Biden declares victory, and moves on.
    If there is a major uptick in new infections linked to air travel, then Biden says “I told you that the mandate was a good idea”, and blames a judge appointed by Trump,

  2. @Tb +1

    I agree that this judgment is a gift to the Biden administration. Without having lifted a finger, the administration gets the mask mandate lifted. If Covid affects the airlines, well I can hear the response: “the airlines wanted this”!

    About 5 weeks ago the UK lifted mask mandates along with many other Covid restrictions. Two weeks after the lifting the mask mandate, the sick calls at airports and airlines started. BA and EasyJet had hundreds of cancelations in the last 2 weeks. Covid was causing the sick calls in both airline and airport staffing. The UK and the US have had many similarities with pandemic waves, vaccinations, etc. Will this happen in the US? I give it a good chance of happening. Because Omicron is more transmissible and even the vaccinated are getting Omicron. Sometimes you don’t get what you wished for…

  3. Well Gary may think the Administration is smart but only about 30 percent of the population think Mr. Biden is doing a satisfactory job. And his bungling of Covid along with every other thing he has touched is no exception. Assuming he can even remember where he is, there is no reason to believe the outcome on his handling of this will be any different. He owns all this including the $5.84 a gallon I paid this morning.

  4. Cahn’t make this stuff up!

    And [Biden] bungling of Covid along with every other thing he has touched is no exception.

    You are clearly confused. The one who bungled the COVID response, could have died from it had he not received specialized treatment that few could have received and was, PTL, tossed out of office in large part because of his bungling of COVID, including promoting quack cures like zapping the virus with laser light or drinking bleach, was disgraced and twice-impeached ‘former guy’.

    Biden has taken heat for many unpopular decisions involving hated mitigation measures like masking and testing that have affected his approval rating, but have, unquestionably, brought us to this point, where one can see the beginning of the end.


  5. @DCS +1

    The previous POTUS left no plans for implementing the vaccines. So the Biden administration had to create every Covid program from scratch. While also fixing the tanking economy and massive unemployment that the former guy did not think was a problem…

  6. @JohnB — Exactly. Anything that didn’t benefit the ‘former guy’ personally or his family was not worth it, which is why I am mystified that he still enthralls so many who comment in this space even though he couldn’t give a damn what happens to them.

  7. @JohnB

    Lol Biden had taken everything that was given to him and ruined it. Trump left Thai country in a great condit and Biden ruined it.

  8. @Kroggerj — Please read my preceding comment and then look up ‘stupid’ online and you will see your face.


  9. @Koggerj

    What does “Trump left Thai country in great condit” mean? THAT is what you typed? Did you miss taking your meds? Or are you so sh*t-faced you can’t type? Hopefully it was one of those or you really are stupid…

  10. Say whatever you want but a super majority of the country thing Biden is a tool and you will see the results in November

  11. @Gary Rakestraw

    Say whatever YOU want but once the Supreme Court announces their decision on Roe vs Wade, in June, millions of women who haven’t voted in midterms will vote! Hint: it won’t be for Republicans!

  12. Stay on topic, please. As was reported covid deaths and injuries are predominately from people who have been vaccinated multiple times. In fact, the garbage medicine will make this virus mutate into a very deadly strain.

    The real decision

    So the death numbers have been suppressed and are higher than the last admin and we continue to jab people during a pandemic surely ensuring a deadly strain that will take out the immunocompromised and then the regular folks.

    Masking won’t help, didn’t help during 1918, 1957, and 1968 outbreaks. “The Science” is now flawed

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