The long leather-seated benches and armchairs around the fireplaces of the House Speaker’s Lobby have been cleared out in an effort to keep lawmakers from congregating and lingering during votes.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the behavior, which is in direct violation of guidance from the attending physician, in an announcement from the House floor Wednesday.
“The chair would advise that all members should leave the chamber promptly after casting their votes. Furthermore, members should avoid congregating in the rooms leading to the chamber, including the speaker’s lobby,” said Pelosi.
She reminded lawmakers that their own health is not the only concern when conducting business in the chamber.
“It is essential for the health and safety of members, staff, and U.S. Capitol Police to consistently practice social distancing and to ensure that a safe capacity be maintained in the chamber at all times,” she said. “The Sergeant-at-Arms is directed to enforce this policy.”
The Speaker’s Lobby is situated directly outside the House chamber and is a long corridor featuring portraits of past House speakers, crackling fireplaces, chandeliers and typically plenty of seating for lawmakers to use to read the newspaper, catch up on emails or gaggle with reporters.
Media has been barred from the ornate space since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to cut down on crowding. Vote series have been extended, and members are supposed to vote in waves to keep down the number of lawmakers in the chamber at one time. Stragglers have been ushered out by House Sergeant-at-Arms staff.
During the warm spring and summer months, lawmakers were killing time between votes on the breezy steps that lead down from the second story of the Capitol.
But as the weather turned cold this week, lawmakers turned to old habits. And Attending Physician Brian Monahan seemed to anticipate it.
In a memo on Nov. 13, Monahan reminded lawmakers about social distancing and the additional ventilation being used in buildings across the Capitol campus.
“Members are requested to vacate the floor and Speaker’s Lobby while waiting to vote and/or after their vote has been cast,” reads the memo.
Pelosi also addressed mask wearing in the chamber, which is required but had been eschewed by some lawmakers earlier in the week as they lingered in the chamber during votes.
“The chair views the failure to wear a mask as a serious breach of decorum. I repeat, members and staff will not be permitted to enter the hall of the House without wearing a mask,” said Pelosi.