A group of fliers challenged the Biden administration’s mask mandates with six court filings.
The federal court petitions sought an end to mask requirements for travelers.
“Wearing face masks has nothing whatsoever to do with transportation security,” they said.
A coordinated group of anti-mask travelers on Tuesday filed six petitions in federal appellate courts across the country, with each filing arguing that the Biden administration’s mask mandates were unconstitutional.
The petitions were the latest step in a months-long legal campaign led by Lucas Wall, the Washington, D.C., a frequent flier who is suing the Biden administration and seven airlines. Wall filed the petition in the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, but they each use his lawsuit as an exhibit.
The six petitions were filed by a combined 12 people, each of which said their medical conditions made it difficult or impossible to wear a face covering. Some said they suffered from anxiety disorders.
The legal arguments – and much of the individual wording – of each of the six petitions were identical. Each called for an end to the Biden administration’s “illegal and unconstitutional” mask mandates, which were extended for a second time through mid-January 2021.
The petitions argued that mask mandates didn’t fall under the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) legal mandate, which they said was “limited by law to address security threats.” They said Congress hasn’t given the agency “power to regulate the public health and welfare.”
“Wearing face masks has nothing whatsoever to do with transportation security,” the petitioners said.
A TSA spokesperson declined to comment on pending litigation.
The petitions challenged four orders put in place by the TSA, each of which cited President Joe Biden’s January executive order requiring masks for all travelers. The TSA orders – three security directives and one emergency amendment – were re-upped in August, before the TSA’s mask mandate was extended.
“None of these give TSA authority to require passengers to wear masks to possibly prevent the spread of a communicable disease such as COVID-19,” the petitioners said.
Progressives continue to push President Biden to cancel student loan debt for millions of borrowers.
Despite the party’s stalled reconciliation bill, progressives have not relented on this issue.
Sen. Chuck Schumer has pressed the president to cancel $50,000 in federal student debt per borrower.
Progressive Democrats are pushing President Joe Biden to take action on student loan forgiveness even as party leaders continue to forge a pathway to pass their stalled multitrillion-dollar reconciliation bill.
Many of the individuals who took on the burden, alongside progressive lawmakers and consumer advocates, want Biden to forgive up to $50,000 in federally-held student debt per borrower.
The president has so far resisted, questioning whether he has the unilateral authority to make such a move.
Biden said earlier this year that he was “prepared to write off $10,000 in debt,” but large-scale student loan debt overhauls were not included in either the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that passed last March or the “human” infrastructure bill that is focused on childcare, healthcare, and climate policy, among other priorities.
However, for Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the influential Congressional Progressive Caucus, the student loan issue remains front and center.
“Student debt relief is good for people and good for the economy. @POTUS can and must lift the burden of student debt for 43 million Americans,” she tweeted last Thursday.
While broad-based cancellation has gained steam among Democrats on Capitol Hill since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Schumer has become more vocal about enacting loan forgiveness since Biden has been in the White House.
Advocates seeking the cancellation of student debt also point to the enthusiasm that it would create among younger voters for Democratic candidates in a year when the party is seeking to defend its slim congressional majorities.
“I think moderates who are running in tough races, this is going to be the difference for them, whether or not student debt gets canceled,” Thomas Gokey, the organizer and co-founder of the Debt Collective, told The Hill.
Manchin blasted Bernie Sanders for writing an op-ed in a W.Va. paper over the reconciliation bill.
Sanders detailed the investments that the bill could provide and called out Manchin as a holdout.
“I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs,” Manchin said in a statement.
The dispute between Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia over a multitrillion-dollar reconciliation package reached a boiling point on Friday when Sanders wrote an opinion piece for a high-profile newspaper in Manchin’s home state.
Sanders, writing for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, laid out the stakes for the legislation, which is consequential for President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda and base Democratic voters who for years have clamored for solutions on issues including access to higher education and the rising cost of childcare.
“This reconciliation bill is being opposed by every Republican in Congress as well as the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry and the billionaire class,” Sanders wrote. “They want to maintain the status quo in which the very rich get richer while ordinary Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet.”
Manchin did not take kindly to the pressure campaign for him to back a more robust Democratic-led infrastructure bill, which party leaders envisioned in the $3.5 trillion range. Manchin has insisted the bill be pared down to roughly $1.5 trillion.
“This isn’t the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state,” the senator said in a statement on Friday. “Congress should proceed with caution on any additional spending and I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs. No op-ed from a self-declared Independent socialist is going to change that.”
In the op-ed, Sanders explained that the bill is intended to aid working-class Americans that have often been left behind by government.
“The Build Back Better plan is not only vitally important for seniors, but it is enormously important for working families and their children,” Sanders wrote. “As a result of the $300 direct payments to working class parents which began in the American Rescue Plan, we have cut childhood poverty in our country by half. It would be unconscionable to see those payments end, which is exactly what will happen if we do not pass this bill.
“I believe that now is the time, finally, for Congress to stand up for working families and have the courage to take on the big money interests and wealthy campaign contributors who have so much power over the economic and political life of our country,” he added.
Sanders then called out Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona as the only holdouts for a bill that progressives feel would be transformative for the country.
“Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation,” he wrote. “Yet, the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote ‘yes.’ We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin.”
Democrats cannot afford any defections in moving their infrastructure bill through the reconciliation process, which would allow the party to skirt the 60-vote threshold normally needed to cut off debate to pass legislation.
Manchin and Sinema are not on board with the current level of spending and have asked for cuts, even as party leaders hope to pass a larger reconciliation bill and move the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill through the House. The Senate already approved the bipartisan bill, but progressives are demanding that both bills be passed at the same time, while more centrist Democrats have called on the party to pass the smaller bill and then work on the larger package.
Sanders, the chairman of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, has been increasingly vocal about his issues with Manchin’s posture in recent weeks, saying that “it’s not good enough to be vague.”
Manchin has laid out his issues with some of the clean electricity provisions and the White House has continued to seek a compromise between the Mountain State senator, Sinema, and the rest of the Democratic caucus.
“I’m convinced we’re going to get it done. We’re not going to get $3.5 trillion. We’ll get less than that, but we’re going to get it,” Biden said while in Connecticut on Friday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has pledged to fight the Biden administration over federal vaccine mandates.
“I am offended that a police officer could potentially lose their job,” he said on Thursday.
DeSantis has opposed broad vaccine requirements and mask mandates in K-12 public schools.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a vocal opponent of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, on Thursday said that the state will fight the federal government in court over legislation regarding such requirements.
DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has spoken out forcefully against vaccination rules placed on employers, and last month said that President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate was a violation of Florida law.
“Let’s not have Biden come in and effectively take away – threaten to take away – the jobs of people who have been working hard throughout this entire pandemic,” DeSantis said during a news conference this week. “I am offended that a police officer could potentially lose their job.”
“I just think it’s fundamentally wrong to be taking people’s jobs away, particularly given the situations that we see ourselves facing with the economy,” he added.
The rule from the federal government mandates that employers with over 100 workers must require vaccination or conduct weekly testing, which would affect about 80 million Americans. The broader mandate would also affect about 17 million healthcare workers who are employed by hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, along with federal employees and contractors.
Even Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, who has traveled throughout his conservative in an effort to boost the vaccine, said that Biden’s decision to enact a federal mandate was not helpful to increasing inoculation levels among the public.
“I support businesses being able to require vaccination, but it’s their own independent choice for their workplace,” he said last month. “But to have the federal mandate will be counterproductive. It’s going to increase resistance. We’re going to grow our vaccinations whether you have this or not.”
Ladapo, who opposes mask mandates and feels that COVID-19 vaccines are “nothing special,” last year boosted the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine to fight the coronavirus. The World Health Organization earlier this year said that hydroxychloroquine is not an effective form of treatment for COVID-19.
Recently, the Florida Department of Health leveled a $3.57 million fine against Leon County, which encompasses the state capital of Tallahassee, after the jurisdiction mandated that hundreds of workers receive the vaccine.
The county terminated the employment of 14 workers who chose not to receive the vaccine, according to The Tallahassee Democrat, and local officials are prepared to defend the requirement in court.
A recent study conducted by the French government-backed scientific organization Epi-Phare, which looked at nearly 23 million individuals, found that vaccines reduced the risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19 by at least 90% among individuals 50 years old or older.
As Insider’s Eliza Relman previously reported, medical professionals as well as public health and legal experts, have praised vaccine and testing mandates as effective and constitutional tools to promote public health — especially as the unvaccinated pose a threat to others’ health and safety.
DeSantis said that the state’s lawsuits against the federal mandates will be filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Florida, which this past summer experienced a surge in new COVID-19 infections fueled by the highly infectious Delta variant, has seen over 57,000 of its residents succumb to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
ormer Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe once wrestled a 280-pound alligator to secure a $15,000 campaign donation for President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 reelection campaign. In 2009, the former Democratic National Committee Chairman ran unsuccessfully for his party’s gubernatorial nomination, but came back to win the nomination – and the governorship – four years later. During his time in the Executive Mansion from 2014 to 2018, McAuliffe faced a solidly-conservative GOP legislature that was resistant to many of his legislative proposals. However, as the longtime Democratic power broker seeks to win his old job back in the November general election, he faces a test unlike any that he’s encountered in the past – with his race serving as a barometer of the current political alignment of the Old Dominion.
Democrats have been ascendant in the state for over a decade now – with key wins that included former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories, Ralph Northam’s 2017 gubernatorial victory against former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, the party taking full control of the state legislature after the 2019 elections, and now-President Joe Biden’s double-digit triumph against then-President Donald Trump last fall.
Republicans – who in recent years have nominated a string of candidates that struggled with the ever-growing suburban vote – have not won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009. But this year, GOP delegates nominated Glenn Youngkin, a former private equity executive and first-time political candidate who has so far been able to speak to conservative issues in way that has united the party’s business class and its dominant Trump wing. The Republican approach, along with Biden’s slumping numbers in the state, have made the Virginia election a real race in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Despite the state’s recent Democratic-leaning orientation, Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., told Insider that there still remains a strong GOP base of reliable supporters. “Republicans consistently turn out a million or a little over a million voters consistently, even when they’ve lost massively,” he said.
With the dominant Democratic Party facing an energized GOP, what do the dynamics of the electorate reveal about Virginia’s political identity?
The importance of the suburban vote can’t be overstated
From the 1970s through the 1990s, Republican presidential victories in Virginia were powered by the state’s fast-growing suburban areas in northern Virginia, the Richmond metropolitan area, and Hampton Roads, which form the core of the vote-rich “Golden Crescent.” However, from the late 2000s through the last decade, many suburban localities, including populous Loudoun, Prince William, and Henrico counties, began to support Democrats on the presidential level. This shift, which was already ongoing as the GOP became more ideologically conservative, was exacerbated by Trump’s deep unpopularity in these suburbs, which are filled with college-educated moderates and independent voters who have become more receptive to Democratic messaging. Minority voters, notably Black, Latino, and Asian residents, are also increasingly becoming a part of the suburban electoral calculus.
In northern Virginia, where McAuliffe and Youngkin both reside, Democrats have had striking success in recent election cycles. In 2019, northern Virginia boasted a population of 2.8 million residents and the region’s votes made up 32% of the total statewide count in last year’s presidential election, according to The Washington Post. The party handily carried the region by 32% in the 2017 gubernatorial election won by Northam, who is term-limited and ineligible to run for reelection. By running for a second, nonconsecutive term in office, McAuliffe is hoping to pull off a rare feat in Virginia – the last governor elected to two terms was Mills Godwin, who served in office from 1966 to 1970 as a Democrat and from 1974 to 1978 as a Republican.
A recent poll released by the Wason Center on Oct. 8 showed McAuliffe ahead of Youngkin 49%-45% with likely voters – the survey had a margin of error of 4.2%. In the same poll, Youngkin led among independents by a 50%-41% margin.
J. Miles Coleman, the associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, which currently classifies the race as “leans Democratic,” told Insider that Youngkin has a compelling personal story as a native Virginian who earned a basketball scholarship to play at Rice University and went on to earn an MBA at Harvard before eventually amassing a fortune of over $300 million at the helm of the Carlyle Group. “The Republicans have a fairly attractive candidate in Youngkin,” he said. “He’s not hated as much Trump is here, that’s for sure. He kind of has an uplifting life story, and I think he’s probably better positioned to appeal to some of those suburban voters who used to be Republicans but now vote for Democrats. He has tried to touch on some themes of law and order with a softer edge than Ed Gillespie … at this time four years ago we were talking about MS-13,” a reference to the violent street gang.
McAuliffe has been unable to cast Youngkin as unacceptable to swing voters
Republicans are bullish on their support among some of the very same independents who have backed Democrats like Northam and Biden, along with lawmakers like Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. McAuliffe has consistently sought to tie Youngkin to Trump, as well as raise concerns about access to abortion in the wake of the implementation of a highly restrictive Texas law that effectively bans the procedure after the sixth week of pregnancy. The former governor has also chided Youngkin for opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates in an appeal to independents who back such measures. Youngkin, who has been vaccinated, disagrees with the mandates and said last month that getting inoculated is a personal decision.
The former governor has also criticized Youngkin for invoking critical race theory, which examines how America’s history of racism continues to reverberate through laws and policies that exist today; it is a discipline that is generally not taught in K-12 schools, but Youngkin has pledged “ban” it on his first day in office.
McAuliffe, who is known for being a disciplined campaigner, has had a tough time linking Youngkin to the former president in the minds of many swing voters. Kidd, the Wason director, told Insider that even if Youngkin comes up short in his campaign, he could provide a roadmap for the Virginia GOP as they seek an escape from the political wilderness. “Glenn Youngkin may not win, but Republicans may have found a way to thread the needle between Trumpism and economic conservatism, which they have struggled to do,” he said. “Youngkin seems to be walking a tightrope pretty effectively in some ways. He embraces Trump just enough, but not too much, and he distances himself from Trump just enough, but not too much.”
The conservative vote in the state remains influential
Despite Democrats currently holding all major statewide offices in Virginia, the GOP still holds 45 out of 100 seats in the House of Delegates and 19 out of 40 seats in the Senate. This year, every House seat is up for grabs, with Democrats angling to retain the majority that they clawed back in 2019. In addition to partisan gerrymandering, a major reason why Democrats struggled to regain control of many suburban-based House districts in the last decade prior to Trump’s election was low turnout.
In 2009, the last year that Democrats lost a gubernatorial election in Virginia, Republicans were eager to elect former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell and he won in a 59%-41% landslide over state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds. Overall turnout that year was 40.4%, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. In 2013, when McAuliffe was elected governor, turnout hit 43%, which provided the lift he needed to defeat then-GOP state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli by a 48%-45% margin. In 2017, Northam beat Gillespie by a 54%-45% spread, with a 47.6% turnout rate fueled by Democratic dissatisfaction with the Trump administration.
Kidd told Insider that inconsistent Democratic turnout has been a lingering issue for the party. “Democrats flex all over the place with their numbers,” he said. “They either turn out 1.4 or 1.5 million voters, or they turn out 800,000. Democratic losses since Obama’s election in 2008 have been because they don’t show up, and close wins have happened because they don’t show up. In 2014, Mark Warner pulled it out [US Senate race] by the skin of his teeth, and it’s because Democrats were sort of chagrined about the state of everything going on in the country.”
While Republicans have faltered in northern Virginia in recent cycles, they still have a solid base of support in many exurban communities in the state, especially in the Richmond area and Hampton Roads, and they continue to dominate in the rural countryside, which includes Southwest Virginia.
The election is inextricably linked to Washington, DC
Last fall, Biden captured Virginia and its 13 electoral votes, winning the state by 10 points (54%-44%) in a year where Democrats were especially mobilized against Trump. However, months after the president took office, unexpected turbulence with the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and a stalled domestic agenda in Congress have removed much of the luster from his numbers.
In the Washington Post-Schar poll, Biden’s approval rating in Virginia sat at 46%, with 51% disapproving. During a virtual meeting with supporters last week, CNN reported that McAuliffe mentioned Biden’s sagging approval figure in the state. “We are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington, as you know,” he said on the call. “The President is unpopular today unfortunately here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through.” While the former governor brushed off the comments, the legislative inaction prompted him to state that the $3.5 trillion price tag for the Democratic-led infrastructure bill was “too high.”
During a Tuesday interview with The Associated Press, McAuliffe called on Democratic lawmakers in Washington, DC, to “do your job” and do “whatever it takes” to pass substantive legislation. “They got to get their work done,” he told the news agency. “People are counting on them.”
In a state filled with federal workers and military veterans, residents are very much attuned to what emanates from the nation’s capital, and McAuliffe clearly wants to see results, Coleman told Insider. “From his perspective, he just wants something passed,” he said. “He wants to at least have the perception that Biden is able to pass his priorities. I think you’ll see some Democrats across the country kind of trim their sails like him and say, ‘We just want something that we can show the voters and say that this was what we’ve done.'”
“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19,” Abbott wrote in the order.
Despite Abbott’s order, Southwest said it would continue to comply with the federal mandate, challenging the Republican governor’s decree and creating tension between the company and lawmakers.
“According to the president’s executive order, federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the president’s order to remain compliant as a federal contractor,” a Southwest spokesperson told Insider on Tuesday.
The Biden administration on Friday canceled contracts for border wall construction in Texas.
The cancelled contracts were in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo areas.
The move “isn’t going to solve the Biden Border Crisis,” Sen. Tom Cotton said.
The Department of Homeland Security on Friday said it would cancel the remaining construction contracts for former President Donald Trump’s border wall.
The contracts related to two sections of the US-Mexico border in Texas: Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley area, the DHS said in a press release.
The move came months after the Biden administration cancelled two contracts that spanned about 31 miles of the US-Mexico border in Texas.
DHS said it planned to begin environmental studies for border barrier “system projects.” However, those “activities will not involve any construction of new border barrier or permanent land acquisition,” it said.
The construction of barriers along the southern US border has become a highly partisan issue. President Donald Trump sought to build a “big, beautiful wall,” but others raised questions about whether barriers would solve the problems that drove asylum-seekers to the US in the first place.
Friday’s move by the Biden administration raised the ire of a handful of Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Dan Crenshaw, of Texas.
“Impeach Mayorkas,” Crenshaw said on Twitter, referring to Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of homeland security.
“Canceling construction of the border wall isn’t going to solve the Biden Border Crisis,” Sen. Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, said on Twitter.
Earth Justice, an environmental nonprofit that had sued the Trump administration over the wall, on Friday said canceling the projects would save “71 river miles in Webb and Zapata counties from destruction.” The group said the projects would have cost more than $1 billion.
In June, the White House returned $2 billion from border wall projects to the military. Trump’s administration had diverted those funds.
“Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border and costs American taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious policy solution or responsible use of federal funds,” The White House Office of Management and Budget said at the time.
“Whether through weakness or an intentional effort to bully his own members, Senator Schumer marched the nation to the doorstep of disaster. Embarrassingly, it got to the point where Senators on both sides were pleading for leadership to fill the void and protect our citizens. I stepped up,” McConnell said in the letter.
However, McConnell vowed in his letter to Biden that Republicans would not provide assistance in December to raise the debt ceiling.
“Your lieutenants on Capitol Hill now have the time they claimed they lacked to address the debt ceiling through standalone reconciliation, and all the tools to do it. They cannot invent another crisis and ask for my help,” McConnell said in the letter.
On Friday, the Biden administration restored protections for two national monuments in Utah.
Following years of campaigning by Native Americans for federal recognition, President Joe Biden issued the first presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which he declared would be observed on October 11 in honor of America’s first inhabitants.
“Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures – safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations,” a White House proclamation release from Biden said.
Although Indigenous Peoples’ Day will be celebrated on the same date as Columbus Day, Biden acknowledged the atrocities inflicted on Indigenous communities by European explorers in another proclamation and urged the country not to try and bury “shameful episodes of our past.”
“For Native Americans, western exploration ushered in a wave of devastation: violence perpetrated against Native communities, displacement and theft of Tribal homelands, the introduction and spread of disease, and more,” a White House proclamation from Biden said. “On this day, we recognize this painful past and recommit ourselves to investing in Native communities, upholding our solemn and sacred commitments to Tribal sovereignty, and pursuing a brighter future centered on dignity, respect, justice, and opportunity for all people.”
“This may be the easiest thing I’ve ever done so far as President,” Biden said Friday during a speech outside the White House.
Former President Donald Trump had previously revoked protections for thousands of acres across the four monuments, Indian Country Today reported, which opened them up to mining, commercial fishing, and other developments.
“Today’s announcement, it’s not just about national monuments. It’s about this administration centering the voices of Indigenous people and affirming the shared stewardship of this landscape with tribal nations,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo nation.
“It feels great,” Biden said when asked by a reporter how it felt to be behind the wheel of a car. He also requested that one of the assembled crowd use a stopwatch to time how long it takes for the truck to go from zero to 60 miles per hour.
When a reporter asked if she could ask him a foreign policy question before he floored the gas, Biden joked, “No you can’t, not unless you get in front of the car before I step on it. I’m only teasing.”
But, much like parallel parking into a tight spot on a city street, Biden has little room for error with a narrow majority in the House and a Senate equally divided between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans.
Biden focused much of his speech on Tuesday on countering China’s dominance in certain areas of technological development including in the electric vehicle space.
“The whole world knows that the future of the auto industry is electric, and we need to make sure that America builds that future instead of falling behind,” Biden said in his speech Tuesday. “I want those jobs in Michigan, not halfway across the board.”