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Democrats And Republicans Square Off Over House Mask Mandate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wears a mask as she departs a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Al Drago
Bloomberg via Getty Images
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wears a mask as she departs a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

The debate over masks has returned to the House floor.

As an increasing number of Republicans express frustration that they have to continue to wear masks on the floor of the chamber, a GOP-led resolution to change the House's guidance on masks was tabled on Wednesday evening.

Their effort comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week eased its guidelines on face coverings, saying that those who have received a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine are mostly free to go maskless indoors and out, except where required by law and local regulations.

That guidance, which the CDC says is scientifically sound, was the cause of much confusion across the country over the weekend.

Many House Republicans say the chamber is no longer following science on the pandemic and use of masks.

Tuesday kicked off the fight in what has become a cultural touchpoint between the more-mask-embracing political left and rightwing skeptics of the coronavirus and its spread.

During an evening vote, nearly a dozen Republicans staged a mini rebellion and removed their masks on the House floor. Three were slapped with $500 fines for their second offense.

The cost of noncompliance goes up to $2,500 with subsequent offenses, and fines are automatically withdrawn from offending members' paychecks — a rule championed by a perennial GOP foil, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

On Wednesday, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republicans introduced an ultimately doomed resolution to scrap the chamber's mask rules.

"The continued House mask mandate hinders the ability of the House to properly and effectively conduct the people's business," the GOP resolution reads, citing the new CDC recommendations.

Signees write of the low likelihood that vaccinated members could pass the virus to others, and say that "those who have not yet received the vaccine pose no real threat to those who have been vaccinated."

The motion requests that Congress' attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, "take timely action to provide updated mask wearing guidance applicable to the Hall of the House of Representatives" for members and staff who have been vaccinated.

But in a Wednesday memo, Monahan reiterated the current rules stipulating that House members continue to mask up when in the chamber, and said that rule would remain unchanged until all members had been vaccinated.

Pelosi, in Wednesday remarks on the House floor, reminded members of that rule and scolded those who refused to adhere to the mandate.

"The chair expects members to conduct themselves in appropriate decorum in the House chamber at all times. That includes proper attire, behavior that is respectful of other members and of our staff, and adherence to mask requirements and other safety protocols, intended to protect all of those present in the Hall of the House," she said.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin was less diplomatic in his assessment of Republicans who were fighting the mandate.

Speaking on Tuesday evening after the mask removal demonstration, Raskin said: "One hundred percent of the Democrats had been vaccinated, and if we had 100% of the members vaccinated, we could all take our masks off."

"We should be protesting them."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for Guns & America. Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.