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21 states sue the Biden administration to end the federal travel mask mandate

HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 03: People travel through the George Bush Intercontinental Airport on December 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Many countries have tightened travel restrictions after it was announced the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant, named Omicron. On November 25. U.S. President Joe Biden reinforced travel mandates and required all inbound international travelers to be tested within one day of departure for the United States. Biden also announced that the federal mask mandate requiring travelers to wear masks in airports, on planes, and on other modes of public transportation such as trains and buses has been extended through March 18. The travel bans announced on November 26 prohibit entry into the U.S. of non-citizens coming from eight countries in southern Africa. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
People travel through the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Governors from 21 states are suing to end the federal mask mandate for public transportation.

Governors from 21 states are suingto end the federal public transportation mask mandate, claiming the continued enforcement "harms the states" and interferes with some local laws.

The filing comes just days after airline CEOs called on President Biden to drop the mandate.

"President Biden's shortsighted, heavy-handed and unlawful travel policies are frustrating travelers and causing chaos on public transportation," Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who is leading the states' effort, said in a statement. "It's long past time to alleviate some of the pressure on travelers and those working in the travel industry by immediately ending Biden's unlawful public transportation mandates."

Joining the mostly Republican-led effort are three states with Democratic governors — Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana.

Last month, leaders in Texas filed their own, similar complaintagainst the Biden administration.

This newest charge from nearly two dozen states targets the leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health and Human Services, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security.

A spokesman for the TSA told NPR that the agency will not comment on pending litigation. The CDC didn't immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.

This legal action comes just weeks after the TSA decided to extend the mandate for mask use on public transportation and in transportation hubs through April 18. The mandate was originally set to expire on March 18.

The CDC says it's working on a "revised policy framework" for face coverings.

States say the CDC exceeds its own authority

COVID-19 cases have gone down as more Americans have received vaccinations and booster shots. But the virus remains a threat. As of this week, an average of nearly 27,000 new caseshave been reported daily and nearly 700 people per day are dying from the coronavirus.

Many states and cities have already lifted COVID-19 restrictions as they've seen a decline in cases and hospitalizations locally.

The states' lawsuit says the CDC should end its mandate in light of this trend.

"More recently, even lockdown States like California have announced the end of their mask mandates. Still, the CDC unabashedly leaves its mandate intact," their complaint says.

CEOs from all major airlines in the U.S. last week called on Biden to drop the federal transportation mask mandate along with the international pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirement.

The states' lawsuit claims the Biden administration "continues to use a failed interpretation of a quarantine statute," that the rule is arbitrary and capricious, and exceeds CDC's authority.

It also "interferes with state law in places like Florida, which has imposed laws banning forced masking."

Officials in Florida leading the charge on this legal challenge have pursued several lawsuits against the Biden administration for its approach on COVID-19 restrictions.

The state of Florida last October sued the Biden administration over its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal contractors. The state was also involved locally in lawsuits over school mask mandates and in a court battle against Norwegian Cruise Line for requiring passengers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.