Many House Republicans refused to wear masks on the House floor during a series of morning votes, before they called for the chamber to adjourn as GOP members rebuffed attempts by staff to get them to put on a mask.
“This is some serious nanny-state stuff that will only breed resentment. No kidding,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) said on the floor, complaining that the House should be focusing on border security. He added: “This institution is a sham. We should adjourn and shut the place down.”
When Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) entered the chamber, a Democratic staff member handed her a mask. Boebert grabbed it and dropped it on the floor, according to people familiar with the interaction, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. The congresswoman’s office said she slid it back across the table to the staffer.
Boebert is among the most outspoken Republicans against mask requirements, arguing that they are a sign of authoritarianism rather than an attempt to prevent the spread of a disease that has killed more than 611,000 Americans.
“We might as well start calling this a Perma-demic,” she tweeted Wednesday morning. “Permanent masking. Permanent state of emergency. Permanent control. This will go on until the American people just say enough is enough. The tyrants aren’t giving this up!”
In an email sent late Tuesday to all offices in Congress, the Office of Attending Physician, Brian P. Monahan, reinstituted the mask mandate in all House office buildings, meeting areas and the chamber to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among members and staff.
While he suggested that “well-fitted, medical-grade filtration” masks be worn in the Senate, Monahan stressed the immediate requirement of use on the House side of the Capitol given the “collection of individuals traveling weekly from various risks.” Masks, however, are not required when an individual is alone inside a room or outside.
Many Republicans have declined to say whether they have been vaccinated, although they represent areas with the biggest spikes in infections.
The order came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations for mask use Tuesday, urging all vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to wear a mask indoors if they live in areas with high spread of the delta variant.
Democrats shot back at Republican complaints, noting that the Capitol physician was following the advice of public health officials.
“We always just follow the guidance of the Capitol physician. There is no discussion about should we do it, should we not for one reason or another,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. “It’s the decision of the Capitol physician, who is following the guidance of the CDC about the masks.”
McCarthy (R-Calif.) joined Republicans in deriding the new mask mandate despite concerns from public health officials that the delta variant poses a renewed threat to the public, particularly because of the refusal of many people in areas represented by Republicans to get vaccinated.
“Make no mistake — The threat of bringing masks back is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state,” McCarthy tweeted shortly after Monahan sent his email Tuesday night.
Asked Wednesday morning by NBC News about McCarthy’s comment, Pelosi responded: “He’s such a moron.”
She declined to repeat that barbed criticism later at a news conference but stood by her assessment of the House minority leader’s comments.
“To say that wearing a mask is not based on science, I think is not wise,” she said. “And that was my comment. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
McCarthy said he wanted more answers from Pelosi about the guidance.
“Well, she’s so brilliant. Can she tell me where the science in the building changes between the House and the Senate?” McCarthy asked Wednesday, listing several other questions he had about the new CDC guidance. “So a lot of questions. If she knows so much science, explain to me where the science changes in the rotunda.”
Later in the day, Republicans met with Monahan to voice their concerns about his decision. In the meeting, which lasted about one hour, numerous members asked the Capitol physician why he would institute a mandate if D.C. has a lower transmission rate than most cities. Monahan responded that the Capitol complex should be seen as a different entity given how many people who travel to and from different parts of the country interact with one another, according to two Republican aides in the room who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting.
Republicans left the meeting saying they were unconvinced by Monahan’s arguments for wearing a mask. Many cited a claim made by Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) that the CDC based its new guidance on a study based in India that failed a peer-review process. But the CDC has not yet released the specific data it relied on to come to its decision, making it unclear how Republicans would know what data was used for the guidance or why they expressed certitude that the decision was based on a study related to India.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has said the agency reviewed outbreak investigations in the United States as part of its evaluation.
During a floor speech Wednesday afternoon, McCarthy claimed that over 85 percent of Congress has been fully vaccinated, a statistic that has not been confirmed by the Office of Attending Physician. A survey of all 535 members of Congress by CNN found that in May, 100 percent of Democrats from both chambers were fully vaccinated, while 44.8 percent of House Republicans and 92 percent of Republican senators said the same. Democrats say the lag in vaccinations among conservatives has been holding them back in easing restrictions on Capitol Hill.
Pressed on whether he would push more of his members to get vaccinated in an effort to end the new mask mandate, McCarthy said his conference is already fully vaccinated.
About two dozen Republicans continued to refuse following the mask mandate on the House floor throughout the day Wednesday and risked a fine, including a number of freshmen who sat together. Like a handful of other Republicans, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) walked onto the floor without a mask but put one on when Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.) reminded him that “you got to wear a mask.”
Republicans have refused to follow the mask guidance in the past, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and other fervent pro-Trump Republicans taking pictures of themselves maskless on the House floor and incurring fines. Greene has likened the push to get people vaccinated to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. She later apologized for those comments after visiting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, but she has continued to compare Democrats to the Nazis.
Greene, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Pelosi over their fines, arguing that they violate the 27th Amendment since the penalty is taken from their paychecks.
Some Republicans have increased their calls for supporters to get vaccinated amid the spread of the delta variant, which is spreading at a higher rate in some GOP-led states. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week urged Americans “to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice” about not getting vaccinated. But he expressed skepticism about masking up in the Senate, noting that the “environment right here is pretty safe.”
McConnell, who was vaccinated in December and has been promoting vaccinations in public remarks ever since, plans to run 60-second radio ads on more than 100 Kentucky radio stations in coming days to promote the vaccine with money from his reelection campaign, McConnell spokesman Doug Andres tweeted Wednesday.
“I’m glad that he’s doing those ads — long overdue,” Pelosi said. “This was so self-evident and so obvious.”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.