Capitol Physician Brian Moynihan announced on Tuesday that face masks would once again be required to enter the House side of the US Capitol, regardless of the wearer’s vaccination status. The measure was supported by top Democrats, but opposed by many Republicans. Even Moynihan himself was seen flouting his own guidance, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) claimed to have seen Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) forgoing her mask while “in a crowded room.”
Nevertheless, the Capitol Police have been instructed to enforce the mandate to the fullest extent of the law. A memo circulated by Chief of Police J Thomas Manger on Wednesday instructs officers to order any visitors and staff who refuse to wear masks to leave the building, and arrest them for unlawful entry if they refuse. Officers are also instructed to file a report with the House sergeant-at-arms if any members of Congress refuse to comply.
Some Republicans have already vowed to resist. “Might as well come into my office and arrest my entire staff,” Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky, tweeted on Thursday. “We are not wearing masks … the physician and the chief of police don’t have this authority.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Georgia), a vocal opponent of most coronavirus restrictions, called the move “hysterical unprecedented abuse of power,” and Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York, accused Pelosi of being “massively drunk on power, obsessed with control, and hypocritical and partisan beyond belief.”
Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R) said she’d bail out any staffers arrested for violating the mask rule, while Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Florida) told Pelosi to “come see me” if she had an issue with his staffers going maskless.
On Twitter, multiple Republican representatives hammered Pelosi over the mandate.
The speaker’s decision to re-embrace masking came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended on Tuesday that vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans alike wear masks in indoor settings, in a reversal of guidance issued in May. The CDC cited unpublished data suggesting that vaccinated people could still catch the Delta variant of the coronavirus, carry a high load of the virus, and pass it to others, but CDC Director Rochelle Walensky offered no further information when speaking to reporters. White House coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post that no clinical data existed yet to back up this claim, opining instead that “you can make a reasonable assumption that vaccinated people can transmit the virus just like unvaccinated people can.”
Nevertheless, the recommendations have been embraced by both government departments and private companies. The Department of Homeland Security announced mandatory indoor masking for all 240,000 of its employees on Wednesday, and Apple will require masks in most of its US stores as of Thursday. Facebook and Google have gone a step further, and will require employees returning to the office to be vaccinated. The Biden administration is currently mulling mandatory inoculations for all federal employees, with a decision expected as early as Thursday.
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