(Adds updated mask guidance in 5th paragraph and quote from Pelosi spokesman in 9th paragraph)
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Republicans are pushing for House Democratic leaders to allow fully vaccinated members to ditch their masks on the chamber floor.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) plans to offer a privileged resolution late Wednesday afternoon from the House GOP Doctors Caucus. It would require the House physician to update the guidance on mask-wearing in accordance with the May 13 announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a mask in most situations.
The formal nudge toward normalcy comes a day after 10 members were penalized for not wearing their masks in the chamber. The GOP lawmakers staged a protest on the House floor, refusing to wear their masks during votes. Seven were given an initial warning, and three who’d already received a warning were hit with a $500 fine. The next offense carries a $2,500 fine.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has remained firm on requiring all members to continue wearing masks inside the chamber and in committee meeting rooms until all lawmakers are fully vaccinated. She estimated that 75% of members meet that criteria.
A few hours before a possible vote to update the guidance, Pelosi distributed a 20-page memo from the House attending physician relaxing some recommendations about gatherings for fully vaccinated members of their staff and cleaning of offices. But it restated that masks are “a critical necessity while occupying an indoor space at the Capitol.”
The Doctors Caucus, which includes 18 Republicans who work in health care, said the continued wearing of masks on the floor “is sending the wrong message to the American people — that they shouldn’t trust the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.”
The members added that they don’t oppose lawmakers continuing to wear a mask if they want to do so.
It’s unlikely to receive any Democratic support.
“This resolution has zero basis in science or reality,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement. “The Office of the Attending Physician has consistently conferred with the CDC, as recently as yesterday, as it has issued guidance.”
Under House rules, McCarthy can offer privileged resolutions on the floor, with the presiding officer ruling whether or not it qualifies for immediate debate. Republicans could force a floor vote on the resolution or on the chair’s ruling — though in either case Democrats could move to table the resolution, seeking to end debate on the matter.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said if members want to take their masks off so badly, the answer is simple: All of them need to get vaccinated. Members have had access to the vaccine for several months.
“You can do it downstairs, it takes 10 minutes to do it,” Raskin told reporters outside the House chamber Tuesday. “It would be a very great message to send to the rest of the country.”
Some Republicans have said they don’t need the vaccine as they already contracted Covid-19 and have the antibodies.
Other lawmakers are opposed to the idea of being required to get vaccinated. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted Wednesday that Pelosi “cannot force any member of congress or staff or any citizen or child of the U.S. to take a vaccine.”
With assistance from Erik Wasson (Bloomberg News)