As the omicron variant threatens the halls of Congress and some GOP lawmakers continue entering the House chamber maskless, despite racking up tens of thousands of dollars in fines, Assistant Speaker of the House Katherine Clark, D-Mass., suggested a more tangible solution to thwart the rule-breaking: “isolation boxes.”
In a letter to the House sergeant-at-arms on Tuesday, Clark requested that lawmakers who flout the mask mandate be cordoned off in a plexiglass-enclosed section in the House gallery to help protect other members from exposure to the coronavirus.
“This commonsense step will not only protect our dedicated House staff from Members who refuse to follow House rules, but it will also allow those Members to continue to fulfill their constitutional duty to vote on matters before the House,” Clark wrote.
The House has previously used isolation boxes so members who were quarantined after being exposed to the coronavirus could cast votes. Clark suggested that members who “refuse to mask pose the same or higher risk” to others in the chamber.
The letter comes after Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde, both Republicans from Georgia, collectively racked up over $100,000 in fines for repeatedly breaking the rule. GOP Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, Chip Roy of Texas and Bob Good of Virginia have also been fined.
Lawmakers have to pay $500 for their first violation and then $2,500 for every subsequent offense. Each incident is recorded in a House Ethics Committee news release. On Monday, the committee announced that Clyde flouted the rule seven times in November and again in early December.
But Clark said the fines are not enough.
“This callous disregard for House rules endangers the health of Members of Congress and the professional staff whose physical presence is required to ensure continuity of government,” the assistant speaker wrote.
As the House prepared to return for the start of the 2022 legislative session, Congress’s attending physician, Brian P. Monahan, warned that the number of COVID cases at the Capitol is “unprecedented.”
Last week at the Capitol testing center, the seven-day average rate of infection jumped from less than 1 percent to more than 13 percent, according to The Associated Press. Monahan warned that the rate would only increase over the following weeks and encouraged lawmakers and their staffs to work from home.
On Monday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urged members to comply with the attending physician’s office recommendation to wear N95 or KN95 masks while on the House floor. Hoyer added that lawmakers should exit immediately after casting their votes.