A publicity stunt could cost Texas Democrats up to $1.75 million after lawmakers went maskless on their privately chartered planes to Washington, D.C., violating Biden administration regulations on air travel.
More than 50 state legislators chartered private flights on Monday in an attempt to prevent the Republican-led legislature from passing a number of election- and gun-related bills. The group posted a photo aboard an airplane showing that at least 18 participants on one flight shunned masks, a violation that carries fines up to $35,000 per offense and potential criminal penalties, should federal officials take action.
ON PLANE TO DC: Texas Democratic lawmakers are leaving state to break quorum to stop Republican voting bill. Veteran Capitol observers say this is unchartered territory. Photo from Democrat on the plane. https://t.co/YOuOMb0A2m pic.twitter.com/abWoARvFIC
— ScottGordonNBC5 (@ScottGordonNBC5) July 12, 2021
President Joe Biden extended the Centers for Disease Control's mask mandate to private charter planes on Jan. 30, one of the first executive orders after he took office. The Federal Aviation Administration, which enforces the mask mandate, says it reserves the right to bring fines of up to $35,000 or criminal penalties against those who fail to abide by the mandate. Neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor the Transportation Security Administration responded to requests for comment.
"[The] order from CDC is part of a comprehensive, science-driven, U.S. government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One component of the whole-of-government response is taking actions related to reducing virus spread through travel," the CDC wrote in a statement. "Transmission of the virus through travel has led to—and continues to lead to—interstate and international spread of the virus."
On April 30, the Transportation Security Administration extended its face mask requirement for travelers on commercial flights, trains, and buses to Sept. 13. Thousands of passengers have been banned from carriers for failing to follow the mask mandate.
Biden singled out Texas Republicans in March when he said only "Neanderthal thinking" could lead people to not wear masks. The Texas Democrats' failure to follow federal law comes at a time of growing concerns about the Delta variant, a more communicable and potentially deadly strain of COVID-19. Data provided by the CDC show that individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 can still carry and spread the Delta variant, according to White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci. More than 50 percent of all new COVID-19 cases are from the Delta variant.
RVR Aviation, which carried the Democrats into Dulles International Airport, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The violation of federal law constitutes the latest legal woes for the Texas Democrats after the state's governor, Republican Greg Abbott, said he would order the arrest of the legislators when they return home.
"They will be cabined inside the Texas capitol until they get their job done," Abbott said.