Republicans rebel against mask requirement in House

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy walking in the Capitol building without a mask
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy walking in the Capitol building without a mask (AP)
3:03am, Thu 20 May 2021
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Republicans are rebelling against the requirement that they wear a mask on the House of Representatives floor as tensions rise with majority Democrats who are refusing to change the rules following updated health guidance.

Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy led an effort on Wednesday to convince the Office of the Attending Physician to update its guidance for mask wearing for vaccinated politicians and staff while they are in the House chamber and in committee hearing rooms.

Democrats defeated the move along a party-line vote of 218-210.

Legislators can remove their masks when speaking on the House floor but otherwise must keep it on when in the chamber. There is no requirement for wearing masks in the Senate chamber.

Pelosi (AP)

Democratic politicians say they are tired of the requirements, too, but they worry that some of their Republican colleagues have declined to be vaccinated and could spread the virus.

Some GOP lawmakers opted to go without a mask during voting on Tuesday, with a few taking particular care to stand in the well of the chamber to ensure spectators, colleagues and C-SPAN’s cameras could not miss them.

Their defiance could come at a financial cost. Lawmakers who refuse to wear masks are subject to a fine of 500 dollars (£274) for the first offence. Subsequent offences can result in a 2,500-dollar (£1,370) fine. In practice, however, the House sergeant-at-arms is providing a warning for the first offence.

Seven politicians will be receiving such warnings, according to a list obtained by The Associated Press: Representatives Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Chip Roy of Texas, Bob Good of Virginia, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Mary Miller of Illinois.

Three more had already received a warning and will be fined 500 dollars – Brian Mast of Florida, Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa and Beth Van Duyne of Texas. They will be subject to a fine of 2,500 dollars for additional offences.

Congress Divided Republicans (AP)

Mr McCarthy followed up on their protests with a resolution that stated the mask mandate “hinders the ability of the House to properly and effectively conduct the people’s business”.

The resolution stated that those who have not received the vaccine “pose no real threat to those who have been vaccinated”. And it called on the attending physician of the House to consult with the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and provide updated mask guidelines.

The mask revolt in the House has been brewing for months, with some Republicans chafing at the extra safety precautions imposed during the pandemic and bolstered after the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

Democrats imposed mask requirements last year when many Republicans, defying public health guidance, refused to wear face coverings.

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