WASHINGTON — The Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says masks should no longer be required in the chamber. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office had a response: Get your members vaccinated from Covid-19 first.
The fight over masks that is playing out in the halls of the U.S. House is a microcosm of the debate being had across America after the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear face coverings, even indoors.
But Pelosi has refused to change the rules for the House chamber, even as the CDC guidance has led to a shedding of masks in the Senate and other federal agencies have told vaccinated staff that face coverings are no longer required. Members of Congress were among the first Americans with access to the vaccine, but not all of them have been vaccinated.
Brian Monahan, the attending physician, said in new guidance on Wednesday that additional “precautions are necessary given the substantial number of partially vaccinated, unvaccinated, and vaccine-indeterminate individuals” and to “reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreak.”
On Wednesday, McCarthy and a group of Republicans introduced a resolution seeking to change the House floor rules and allow lawmakers to be maskless on the House floor, citing the recent CDC guidance.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, D-Calif., called McCarthy’s move “a sad stunt” to distract from the chamber’s vote on a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
“If Minority Leader McCarthy wants to be maskless on the Floor of the House of Representatives, he should get to work vaccinating his Members,” Hammill said.
McCarthy’s resolution came one day after a group of Republicans staged a protest on the House floor, violating the rule by going maskless. The group included Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., and far-right members like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
“We’ve had enough. We are refusing to wear our masks on the floor during this vote in spite of Pelosi’s threat to take $500 from each of us. Her rule is not based on science,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who organized the protest, tweeted.
Some were cited for a first offense — a warning — while others were fined $500 for a second offense. A third offense, and additional offenses beyond that, would each lead to a $2,500 fine.
“Best $500 I ever spent,” Mast said of his fine after leaving the chamber.
The group took a photo on the steps of the Capitol together immediately following House votes.
A number of the lawmakers, including Greene, declined to say whether they have received a Covid-19 vaccine, when asked by NBC News. CDC guidance says that it’s only safe for people who have received their final shot, and allowed two weeks to lapse, to congregate without a mask.
Mask-wearing has reduced in the hallways of Capitol Hill since the updated CDC guidance last week, but the rules haven’t yet changed in the House chamber, where prior to the pandemic hundreds of members pack into a crowded space during votes. There is no public record of which lawmakers have been vaccinated.