Ritchie Torres is pushing for mandate requiring all air travelers are vaccinated

Rep. Ritchie Torres Congressional portrait
Rep. Ritchie Torres Photo: Official Congressional portrait

Out Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) is pushing for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and all American-operating airlines to mandate all passengers show proof that they have received a complete regimen of the coronavirus vaccines to fly the friendly skies. He even introduced legislation earlier this month to that effect.

House Resolution 4980, if passed, calls for “the Secretary of Homeland Security to ensure that any individual traveling on a flight that departs from or arrives to an airport inside the United States or a territory of the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID–19.”

Related: Gay congressman introduces bill to mandate a 4 day workweek

Torres defines someone being “fully vaccinated” as a person “receiving all recommended doses of a COVID–19 vaccine that is licensed [by law]… or authorized for emergency use,” the submitted draft text reads.

Torres, the Vice Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has no qualms about going forward with the legislation, but he’s calling on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials not to make it necessary because “legislation takes time,” he told the New York Daily News.

“We’ve seen the limitations of purely voluntary vaccinations. It will only take us so far,” Torres said, citing the ongoing spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

“The TSA never allows people to enter planes or airports with a weapon, and the delta variant is a weapon,” Torres equivocated. “It is a threat to everyone in an airport and everyone on a plane.”

That’s why he sent a memo to TSA Administrator David P. Pekoske and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas telling them, “I believe it is paramount for DHS and TSA to require this commonsense step for passengers who are eligible to be vaccinated.”

“These vaccines are clearly safe and effective. A vaccine mandate would encourage more Americans to get vaccinated, which will save many more lives,” he added in the memo.

The Daily News cited a Kaiser Family Foundation study that found that up to 41 percent of unvaccinated people would more likely try to get an available vaccine if being inoculated was required for air travel.

The Biden administration is reportedly considering issuing a requirement for foreign air travelers to be vaccinated to enter the United States, but the requirement in Torres’s proposal would encompass anyone flying into or out of American airports. “We have to strengthen the incentive,” Torres said.

This week, Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) officially began co-sponsoring the bill.

New York City Councilmember Mark Levine (D) also came out in support of Torres’s proposed measures.

“There are dozens of flights landing in JFK and LaGuardia [Airport] every single day from Texas, Florida, and other hot spots. There is no doubt that unvaccinated people on those flights are bringing the virus into New York City,” Levine said.

Torres has further explained why he’s seeking the rules at a press conference and local news interviews.

Torres is also leading a group of 20 Congressmembers and Senators that are lobbying for their colleagues to continue “fully” funding pandemic preparedness, which was massively slashed in proposed reconciliation budgets.

Torres had previously introduced legislation that would have explicitly included LGBTQ-owned businesses in federal regulations for financial institutions, and would have granted them equitable access to credit.

“The LGBTQ Business Equal Credit Enforcement and Investment Act” sought to include LGBTQ business owners in legislation that requires financial institutions to maintain information on credit applications submitted by minority and women-owned businesses. House Republicans overwhelmingly voted against it during Pride Month.

Torres became the first out Afro-Latinx person elected to Congress in November, and one of the first out Black members of Congress, alongside Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) when they took office in January.

Torres overcame homophobic and anti-LGBTQ attacks both during the competitive Democratic primary and the general election, against a conservative in “the most Democratic district in the country.”

On the road to the general election, Torres was called “a first class whore” by the New York Police Department’s Sergeant Benevolence Association (SBA).

Torres, along with Jones, was a nominee for LGBTQ Nation‘s Politician of the Year honor for 2020’s LGBTQ Nation Heroes Awards. Torres was the runner-up.

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