Face off: House GOP chafes as fines mount for violating mask rule during floor votes

Capitol physician says continued mandate complies with CDC

Florida Rep. Brian Mast is one of three House Republicans facing $500 fines for twice violating the rule requiring a face mask on the House floor.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Florida Rep. Brian Mast is one of three House Republicans facing $500 fines for twice violating the rule requiring a face mask on the House floor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 19, 2021 at 4:39pm, Updated at 6:24pm

Congress’ doctor says continued mandates that masks be worn on the House floor and in committee rooms can be enforced, as fines grow for members breaking the rules.  

“The mask requirement for the Hall of the House is entirely consistent with Centers for Disease Control prevailing mask guidance as reviewed and endorsed by an expert CDC panel,” Attending Physician Brian P. Monahan said in an updated 20-page document on pandemic health guidance.

The direction came as senators on the other end of the building dramatically removed their masks during a vote last week that coincided with the CDC saying vaccinated people were safe without them in many settings. Some House Republicans have begun to revolt against the remaining House mandates, calling on Democrats to “trust the science.” 

GOP Reps. Lauren Boebert, Thomas Massie, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Chip Roy, Bob Good, Louie Gohmert and Mary Miller received first offense warnings on the mask rule, a Capitol official said. The House Sergeant at Arms’ staff is in charge of the fines system. 

GOP Reps. Brian Mast, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Beth Van Duyne were slapped with $500 fines for violating the rule twice. 

A third or subsequent offense will cost lawmakers a cool $2,500. 

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy offered a privileged resolution Wednesday that would lift the mask mandate in the House chamber. Members voted 218-210 along party lines to table it.

The update from the Office of the Attending Physician includes giving individual offices more flexibility over when to clean workspaces and decisions about bringing vaccinated staff back to the Hill. It also recommends removing some plexiglass barriers in areas where visitors or guests are not allowed. 

The guidance allows vaccinated people to eat at dining facilities and use “communal food and beverage stations,” though it says there must be options for separation of non-fully-vaccinated people — the equivalent of a modern-day smoking section.

Members, staff and journalists could be seen in various stages of masking Wednesday on both the House and Senate side of the Capitol. Some had no masks, while others still covered their faces. Some had their masks at the ready on their wrists, chins or around their necks. 

Monahan’s office released guidance last week relaxing mask-wearing and distancing for people who have been vaccinated, allowing them to resume pre-pandemic activities without a mask or staying six feet apart in most areas on the House side of the Capitol. 

A similar letter obtained by CQ Roll Call went out to Senate party leaders last week, though Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have not commented on any mask-related guidance. Both, however, have been spotted not wearing masks, and to some Democrats, that’s guidance enough. 

“I think we’ve been able to manage in the Senate with a little bit less correction from the top than that house has,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, who was wearing a mask Wednesday. “I don’t know that there’s a need to change that.”

In media appearances last week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said relaxed mask rules could be an incentive for people to get vaccinated. The agency did not change its guidance for people who are not vaccinated, saying they should continue to wear masks and socially distance themselves from others. 

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that the mask rules remained in place to prevent “in effect, relapse, a surge” and to make sure members, staff and journalists stay safe in the complex. 

House Democrats have not said publicly how many members of the House are unvaccinated, but a recent CNN survey found that all Democrats have been vaccinated, while only 97 of 211 Republicans said they have gotten the shot. Some 109 Republicans did not respond to the network’s survey.

Numbers on whether staff, police officers, Architect of the Capitol employees and other support staff were inoculated are hard to come by. At the start of this month, all adults became eligible for vaccination, but the process requires scheduling, a wait between shots if given a two-shot vaccine, and a two-week wait after the final shot for full protection. So staff still in the process of getting vaccinated could come in contact with unmasked people who are choosing not to be.

Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun, who was not wearing a mask but wouldn’t say whether he had been vaccinated, said mask wearing is a common sense question, though he said those who are unvaccinated “ought to at least respect six feet of distance.” 

He told reporters that he did recommend his constituents go get the vaccine, but whether to say you’ve been vaccinated or not is a privacy issue.

“It’s up to an individual, whether you get a vaccination or not,” he said. “It’s not public information, and do what’s responsible from your own point of view.”

Niels Lesniewski, Katherine Tully-McManus and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.