U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, says talks about reimposing federal mask mandates as an extension of efforts from President Joe Biden’s administration to control the lives of Americans.
In a Wednesday interview with Cowboy State Daily, Lummis also said plans to introduce a bill Thursday to halt Biden administration efforts to roll back Trump-era Endangered Species Act rules and continues to oppose efforts to implement student load debt forgiveness.
On federal mask mandates, she said they’re a bad idea and amount to government overreach.
“It’s a method of control,” she told Cowboy State Daily in a Wednesday interview. “The approach of the Biden administration, it doesn’t matter whether it’s banking law, ESA (Endangered Species Act), oil and gas — they want to control people, they want to control business, who gets to do business and who does not, and they want to control individuals.”
Last week, she and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, signed legislation that would prevent the government from imposing new federal mask mandates for domestic air travel, public transit systems and in schools. The Freedom to Breathe Act also would prevent air carriers, public transit authorities and all educational institutions from refusing service to those who choose not to wear face masks.
Barrasso backed the bill on the Senate floor, calling it a “vital step in protecting individual rights.”
Senate Democrats blocked the bill, which is sponsored by Ohio Republican J.D. Vance, from being passed on the Senate floor last week, an act Lummis said she found disappointing. Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey said the bill would get in the way of local governments and hospitals from making decisions for themselves on mask mandates.
Lummis said she doesn’t believe mask wearing is effective in preventing the spread of the virus.
“The science of masks was debunked after the initial COVID response, and yet the Biden administration is talking about new federal mask mandates,” she said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, when a face mask is used with other measures like getting vaccinated, hand-washing and physical distancing, it can slow how quickly the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads. TheCenters for Disease Control and Prevention also supports masks.
Where’s COVID At?
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows national hospitalizations from COVID-19 are up 15.7% in the past week and deaths up 10.5%. These numbers are far lower than they were at any peak during the pandemic.
The CDC still recommends universal mask-wearing in schools when COVID-19 hospitalizations are high.
Former White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci told ABC’s This Week on Sunday he’d be extremely surprised to see a return to federal mask mandates or an “overwhelming rush” of coronavirus cases.
There hasn’t been much support in the U.S. for reinstating mask mandates, but there are some exceptions.
According to Forbes Magazine, Lionsgate Hollywood studio, Morris Brown College, some Kaiser Permanente facilities, hospitals and jails in San Francisco and some government buildings in Alabama all reinstated some form of mask mandate in recent weeks. New York’s governor also recently announced a plan to distribute free N95 and KN95 masks to schools this fall, although the state is not requiring their use.
Lummis said face masks have been making a noticeable return on Capitol Hill.
Former president Donald Trump promised last month that, if reelected, he would “use every available authority to cut federal funding to any school” that imposed a mask rule.
Endangered Species Act Bill
Along with opposing mask mandates, Lummis said that on Thursday, she plans to introduce new legislation that would prevent the Biden administration from finalizing three rule proposals that would reverse Trump-era regulations within the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The legislation aims to preserve legal clarity to landowners and businesses of the West while also ensuring that the ESA still effectively manages wildlife.
Lummis, the Senate Western Caucus Chair, believes the proposed rule changes amount to another attempt to hamstring local businesses and landowners. ESA issues are of critical importance in Wyoming, which is 48% federal land.
“There’s a big difference between regulating business and controlling business,” she said.
Lummis’ legislation includes reinstating a rule removed by the Trump administration that requires U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to manage threatened species with specifically tailored plans. The Biden proposal would reinstate the blanket rule, which would treat all threatened species as endangered.
Also targeted for elimination are Trump-era revisions that allow agencies flexibility in defining critical habitat and leeway to only designate unoccupied areas as critical habitat if necessary. The Biden proposal also mandates the two agencies to designate unoccupied areas as critical habitat.
Another change the Trump administration made was to limit analysis to “activities that are reasonably certain to occur.”
The Biden administration wants to take a more rigid approach for determining worst-case scenarios for a species without “clear and substantial information.”
Lummis mentioned how even Maine Democratic Sen. Angus King supported a Republican-led effort to challenge a Biden ESA rule that would have designated King’s entire state as critical habitat.
“It was utterly sweeping and done in a random, haphazard way, rather than a more targeted approach for designated areas,” Lummis said.
That bill passed the Senate and is awaiting consideration in the House.
Last week, Lummis and Barrasso also signed a resolution to overturn Biden’s income-driven repayment rule, which would allow student loan borrowers to forgo paying back the principal on their loans.
Even though it’s tailored to a narrower audience than his original student loan proposal, Lummis still views it as unfair preferential treatment.
“Many people made financial decisions that allowed them to be free or nearly free of student loan debt and they should not have to be financially responsible for someone’s voluntary financial decisions to go to a high tuition school,” she said.
Lummis said Biden’s drive to provide student loan relief is part of an effort by the Democratic Party to curry votes, which she described as “crass.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.