Off with the mask? Not so fast, if you’re a member of Congress.
Despite updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stating that fully vaccinated people can “resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic” without wearing a mask or social distancing, House members are still required to keep their masks on in the chamber except when speaking during debate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN reporter Manu Raju she would not change the rule despite the new CDC recommendations.
“No,” she said, according to Raju on Twitter. “Are they all vaccinated?”
A few hours later, Capitol Attending Physician Brian Monahan confirmed in a memo that the chamber’s mask requirement would “remain unchanged until all Members and floor staff are fully vaccinated.” Monahan added that the new CDC guidance does apply in House office buildings and all other areas.
Pelosi estimated in late April that around 75 percent of House members have been vaccinated. She also said she would not force the remaining members to get the vaccine, citing privacy concerns.
“I can’t go to the Capitol physician and say, ‘Give me the names of people who aren’t vaccinated so I can go encourage them to,’ or make it known to others to encourage them to be vaccinated,” she told reporters at the time. “So we can’t do that. But you would hope that science would guide them to protect themselves, their family members and be good colleagues in the workplace to get vaccinated. And the sooner that happens, the better for everything.”
Republicans accused the Speaker of being over-cautious, with one member calling on Pelosi to end what he dubbed “Mask-erpiece Theater.”
“For all the talk from President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, and the mainstream media telling us to follow the science, political leaders should be setting an example for getting back to normal, not cowering in fear in defiance of common sense,” Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “Based on sound science, the CDC says those who are vaccinated have an incredibly low risk of becoming infected with coronavirus. With that data, there is no reason the House of Representatives should not be fully open and returned to normal operations. It’s time to end the House’s mask mandate and staggered voting.”
“[Masks] should have been gone months ago,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) told Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” Thursday. “Most members have either been vaccinated or they have antibodies. This is a dumb rule to have.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) agreed, saying Pelosi should “just return to sanity.”
“She wants to control the House,” Scalise told host Laura Ingraham. “She wants to keep the public out of the people’s House, by the way, too. The American people are done with all of these shut-ins. They want to see their government in action.”
Pelosi first imposed a mandatory mask policy for the House chamber in July of last year after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) tested positive for coronavirus. In December, as cases increased nationwide, Pelosi required lawmakers to keep their masks on at all times in the chamber, even while speaking.
No members of Congress have publicly disclosed a positive coronavirus test since late January.