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House GOP stages mask mandate protest

The Hill
The Hill
 2021-07-29
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Nearly 40 maskless House Republican lawmakers walked across the Capitol and onto the Senate floor in protest of the Capitol physician’s decision to reinstate a mask mandate in the lower chamber but not in the upper chamber.

Republicans complained that the policy, backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats, is inconsistent, infringes on personal liberty, and is based on politics, not science.

However, the body of the 100-member Senate is less than a quarter of the size of the 435-member House, and all but a handful of senators are vaccinated while dozens of House Republicans have refused to say whether they got the vaccine.

Republicans wanted to show “what it was like on the floor of the Senate versus the floor of the House. Obviously, it’s vastly different,” a maskless Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), who served as former President Trump ’s White House physician, told The Hill after the protest.

Senators “have the freedom to speak without their mask on and be in there and it's not near as restrictive as it is on the House side. It makes no sense,” he added.

Among the group of Republicans who filed onto the Senate floor were Reps. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Byron Donalds (Fla.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Chip Roy (Texas), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), Warren Davidson (Ohio), and Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (Ariz.).

“At least in the Senate, they're recognizing individual responsibility and following science, not just using this as a political tool,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) told The Hill. “So, what are we doing: following the science or Pelosi’s political moves? It’s Pelosi’s political moves.”

The GOP lawmakers, who have Senate floor privileges as members of the House, tried to time their protest with a speech by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on individual freedom.

It came on the same day that the U.S. Capitol Police said that congressional aides and visitors could face arrest if they refuse to wear a mask on the House side of the Capitol complex, including the Rayburn, Longworth and Cannon office buildings. But as of Thursday afternoon, there were zero arrests even as dozens of House lawmakers and staffers walked around the Capitol’s hallways without donning a mask.

Capitol physician Brian Monahan’s new mask rules comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, mostly in red states where the vaccination rate is low. Most of those new cases have been identified as the delta variant, which is much more contagious, health experts have said.

In recent days, two House Republicans have informed their colleagues and staff that they have tested positive for the coronavirus: Reps. Vern Buchanan of Florida and Clay Higgins of Louisiana.

Earlier Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said masks will once again be required indoors in D.C. starting this weekend. Public school districts across the country, including in the D.C. area, also announced that students, teachers and staff will have to wear masks indoors once kids head back in the fall.

And in a speech Thursday, President Biden said all federal workers will now be required to verify they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or face mandatory mask wearing and weekly testing.

“It’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said at the White House. “People are dying who don’t have to die.”

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