President Biden said Tuesday that his administration is examining whether he can order universal masking in public schools, overriding Republican governors in states like Florida and Texas.
“I don’t believe that I do [have that power], thus far,” Biden told reporters during an event in the East Room of the White House. “We’re checking that.”
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended masking for all students, faculty, staff and visitors in K-12 schools last month due to the spread of the Delta variant.
However, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has dismissed the CDC recommendation. After initially banning school districts from imposing mask mandates and suggesting funding cuts for those that do require masking, the governor suggested Monday that the state could “move to withhold the salary” of local officials who make face coverings mandatory.
DeSantis has insisted that parents should get the final say on whether their kids wear masks in schools, not government or public health officials.
Biden did not mention DeSantis by name Tuesday, but described his actions as “disingenuous.”
“When I suggest that people, in zones where there is a high risk, wear the masks like you all are doing, I’m told that government should get out of the way and not do that, they don’t have the authority to do that,” he mused aloud to reporters. “And I find it interesting that some of the very people who are saying that, who hold government positions, are people who are threatening that if a school teacher asks a student if they’ve been vaccinated, or if a principal says that ‘everyone in my school should wear a mask,’ or the school board votes for it, that governor will nullify that.
“That governor has the authority to say you can’t do that,” Biden added. “I find that totally counter-intuitive and quite frankly, disingenuous.”
The war of words between DeSantis and the White House over mask and vaccine mandates has simmered for more than a week, with Biden telling recalcitrant governors to “get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing” and DeSantis accusing the administration of trying to implement a “biomedical security state.”
Adverse legal advice has not necessarily been an obstacle to the president. Last week, Biden allowed the CDC to implement a new 60-day eviction moratorium in much of the US despite admitting to reporters it was “not likely to pass constitutional muster.”
Meanwhile, former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Monday that his former agency must base their guidance on masking children in school on data and not on their opinion.
“There’s a variety of negative public health consequences that happened as a consequence of doing virtual learning. I think it’s imperative that we get the kids back to face-to-face learning and do all we can to keep them there,” Redfield told Fox News, adding: “There’s very few studies that really are compelling [to support masking] in that setting of the classroom.”
“These are critical questions,” Redfield told Fox host Martha MacCallum elsewhere in the interview. “Is routine screening twice a week in a school, is that the way to limit intraschool transmission? Is it wearing masks or not wearing masks? I’m of the point of view this has to be locally decided as opposed to a general mandate, particularly in the absence of data.”