WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday rejected a move by Republicans to relax guidelines on the wearing of masks in the chamber, with Democrats arguing that if lawmakers want to be maskless they need to be vaccinated.
The vote played out largely along party lines, with 218 members voting to reject the measure and 210 voting to proceed.
Defying House rules, several GOP members were in the House chamber Tuesday night and Wednesday without masks — some posing for selfies — drawing fines for their actions in violation of rules established amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Several Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and members of the House GOP Doctors Caucus, had pushed for Wednesday’s vote on a resolution urging Brian Monahan, the attending Capitol physician, to “take timely action to provide updated mask-wearing guidance” for vaccinated lawmakers and staffers in the House chamber and committee spaces.
The resolution states that “the continued House mask mandate hinders the ability of the House to properly and effectively conduct the people’s business.”
The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday dismissed the resolution as “a sad stunt to distract from the reality: that the House Republicans are descending into pure chaos.” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill argued that McCarthy is using the resolution in an effort to “stave off internal mutiny” over a separate matter, the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“Far from inhibiting our work, the mask requirement ensures that the House can debate and pass legislation safely and effectively — with over 6,200 bills filed over the past year, nearly 12,000 proxy votes cast, hundreds of remote and hybrid hearings and mark-ups, and hundreds of thousands of Member meetings held online,” Hammill said in a statement. “If Minority Leader McCarthy wants to be maskless on the Floor of the House of Representatives, he should get to work vaccinating his Members.”
According to a CNN survey last week, House and Senate Democrats have a 100 percent vaccination rate against the coronavirus.
At least 92 percent of Senate Republicans have been vaccinated, the survey found. But only 95 out of 212 House Republicans — or 44.8 percent — said they have been vaccinated, according to CNN.
Pelosi’s office also released a statement from Monahan on the rules.
“The Hall of the House is the only location where many of the entire Membership gathers periodically throughout the day in an interior space,” Monahan said in his office’s latest Pandemic Social Distance Guidelines, issued Wednesday. “Extra precautions are necessary given the substantial number of partially vaccinated, unvaccinated, and vaccine-indeterminate individuals. Additional medical safeguards are required to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreak in this vital group.”
Monahan added that the mask requirement for the House chamber “is entirely consistent with Centers for Disease Control prevailing mask guidance as reviewed and endorsed by an expert CDC panel.”
Three lawmakers will face fines for not wearing a mask on the House floor, a Capitol official said Tuesday night.
The House members — Reps. Brian Mast, R-Fla.; Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa; and Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas — will each have $500 docked from their congressional salary for breaking the mask rule a second time, according to the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
A screenshot of C-SPAN’s footage of the House chamber appears to show the lawmakers smiling and waving toward the camera during a vote.
Some of the Republicans boasted about the fines on Tuesday. “I have been fined $500 by @SpeakerPelosi for following CDC guidance,” Mast later tweeted. “This was never about science. It has always been about power.”
Van Duyne wrote, “Worth it,” along with a fire emoji.
The rebellion is the latest barrage of GOP criticism against the House’s mask mandate, which 34 GOP lawmakers urged Pelosi to drop in a letter last week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated Americans can mostly ditch their masks indoors.
Pelosi, though, has said the mandate will not be relaxed while roughly 25 percent of the House remains unvaccinated. Some Republicans, meanwhile, have argued they have antibodies after contracting the virus or have said they simply won’t take the vaccines.
The House last year voted to impose fines on lawmakers who refuse to wear masks on the House floor amid the coronavirus pandemic. While the CDC recently relaxed its guidelines for masks as more Americans get vaccinated, the House still requires members to wear them in the chamber unless they are speaking.
Several other House Republicans — including Reps. 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 — have received first-offense warnings for not following the House mask rule, the Capitol official said.
Lawmakers face fines of up to $2,500 for repeated offenses.
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The Washington Post’s Andrea Salcedo contributed to this report.