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WASHINGTON — Wearing a green jacket and blue jeans, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz climbed off the passenger seat of a red 18-wheeler with two American flags flying on its truck bed that had driven into Washington, D.C., from northwest Maryland.
Moving toward a makeshift podium on U.S. Capitol grounds near a statue dedicated to naval soldiers who died defending the Union during the Civil War, Cruz joined organizers of a convoy of truckers who have driven across the nation in protest of vaccine and mask mandates — even as many of those mandates have already been lifted or blocked.
The organizers flanking Cruz lead a group that calls itself “The People’s Convoy,” which they say is formed from individuals who come from different professions and backgrounds but unite for one goal: freedom from mandates that restrict individual liberty. The truckers arrived in Washington, D.C., recently after starting their journey in California last month.
Some of the onlookers livestreamed the event to their followers on social media and cheered for Cruz, who called vaccine and mask mandates “fundamentally wrong” while adding that he would continue to fight them.
“If you make the choice to take the COVID vaccine, God bless you. That’s your right, and you have every right to do that,” said Cruz, who is vaccinated. “But if you make the choice not to take the vaccine, that is also your right.”
Health officials and medical experts have consistently said that masks can prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that getting the vaccine and subsequent boosters can reduce the chances of being hospitalized or dying from the virus. They also cite vaccines as key to slowing the pandemic.
The arrival of The People’s Convoy in Washington comes after truckers gained international attention and sparked interest in the far right while rallying against cross-border vaccine mandates in front of the Canadian Parliament building in Ottawa earlier this year. The protests largely ended in late February after Canadian President Justin Trudeau declared a nationwide public order emergency and police cleared demonstrators from the area.
Brian Brase, an organizer of the drive who stood with Cruz during the conference, said in front of the Capitol that thousands of people across the country have lined roads and highways in support of the movement. Several of the convoy’s organizers met with Republican lawmakers Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
Cruz, a fierce critic of mandates enacted during the pandemic, visited the truckers in Hagerstown, Maryland, earlier Thursday and then rode into Washington, D.C., in one of the group’s lead trucks — the lone vehicle that made it to the Capitol. The Washington Post reported that Brase warned convoy members to not ride into the capital city and said those who did were not representing the movement.
The city had been readying for the convoy’s arrival. The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning, and some National Guard troops were deployed. But the environment in Washington and the surrounding area was largely business as usual.
Federal courts have struck down in the last few months several of the Biden administration’s vaccine and health mandates stemming from the pandemic. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a rule requiring employees of large businesses to get vaccinated or submit to regular COVID-19 testing. A lower federal court struck down another order requiring federal employees to get vaccinated.
The high court kept in place one rule requiring health care workers to get the jab.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidance and lifted its recommendations for people to wear masks in communities at low risk of the virus. Some local entities, like Dallas County, followed suit in relaxing mask requirements.
Thank you to The People’s Convoy for speaking out for freedom!— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 10, 2022
Petty government tyrants shouldn’t force people to make private health care decisions. pic.twitter.com/9oak5T9DW2
Brase called on truckers across the world to join the American movement. He said that if gas prices continue to rise as a result of energy market pressures from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the group will find a “permanent” location to park with permits.
Cruz said fighting mandates should not be partisan, pointing toward the lifting of mask rules in the Capitol before the State of the Union speech last week.
“Last week behind us, I sat on the floor of the House and listened to Joe Biden’s State of the Union address,” Cruz said. “Five hundred thirty-five members of Congress — there weren’t five of them wearing masks the entire thing. This is theater from politicians who are playing games, and people are tired of the games.”
Politico reported that at least eight members of the Democratic congressional delegation wore masks at the speech. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not.
A federal rule requiring masks in airports and on airplanes — which some Texas Republicans have sued to overturn — still stands. Before the event, Cruz pushed back on Twitter against the rule’s extension to April 18.
Because of course they are.— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 10, 2022
Here’s an idea: how about the same mask rules on planes that we had at Biden’s State of the Union address? https://t.co/tXPvLBU0Fa
Research modeling of COVID-19 deaths found that vaccines have possibly saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But when asked by someone in the crowd about whether vaccines have saved lives, Cruz stopped short of giving them a full-throated endorsement.
“Look, I hope so. I’m not a doctor,” Cruz said. “You know what? Why would you take medical advice from me? I wouldn’t take medical advice from me. I’m not in the business of giving medical advice. Go talk to your physician if you want to figure out whether you should take the vaccine or not. I hope we have good doctors and good scientists that are figuring that out.”
Texas leaders have consistently opposed mandates, and Attorney General Ken Paxton has repeatedly sued the Biden administration over its pandemic rules, including those for businesses and airports.
Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded the state’s mask mandate and restrictions on business in March 2021 and banned any entity within the state from requiring a vaccine. But some local entities and school districts continued to enforce mask mandates.
Disclosure: Politico has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.