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Pelosi warns lawmakers to social distance after many flout guidelines

Pelosi warns lawmakers to social distance after many flout guidelines
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Trump against boycotting Beijing Olympics in 2022 MORE (D-Calif.) on Monday sent lawmakers a stark reminder to adhere to social distancing and other health precautions on the House floor after many in both parties openly flouted the guidelines the night before.

Rather than minimize time on the House floor, hundreds of members gathered closely in groups during a vote on Sunday night in clear violation of health guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. A handful of members also failed to properly wear masks fully covering their noses and mouths while in close proximity to their colleagues.

In a letter to colleagues, Pelosi called for "respecting proper health and safety guidelines on the floor."

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"When staff urge you to leave the floor, it is not a suggestion. It is a direction, in the interest of keeping the Congress healthy and intact," Pelosi wrote.

"As Members of Congress, we are considered essential workers. We must take our responsibility seriously," Pelosi added, directing lawmakers to "wear masks at all times," "respect social distancing" and "limit the number of Members on the floor."

House leaders had made plans to limit the number of members on the floor at a time on the opening day of the new Congress. But lawmakers unexpectedly had to cast a vote after Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene Roy14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday 21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE (R-Texas) challenged the seating of lawmakers from Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, arguing that his GOP colleagues who plan to challenge the presidential election results in those states should also question the results down the ballot.

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That resulted in lawmakers gathering on the floor during the vote as they typically did pre-pandemic, rather than enter and exit the chamber in groups like they have in recent months.

"The unexpected intervention yesterday evening relating to not seating Members from states subject to an Electoral count challenge resulted in Members ignoring the Floor procedures that were established to keep Members safe. The intervention was not an invitation to gather on the Floor," Pelosi wrote.

Nearly a year into the pandemic, Pelosi has had to repeatedly remind members of health guidelines designed to keep members and staff in the House chamber safe.

After returning from a six-week recess in November, lawmakers similarly gathered in groups on and near the House floor and greeted each other with fist bumps. Pelosi issued a reminder while presiding over the House floor at the time that members must wear a mask and practice social distancing.

House Democrats implemented a proxy voting system in May to allow lawmakers who can't be physically present in the House chamber to vote remotely if they are sick or have to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. But that system is temporarily on hold at the start of the new session of Congress until the House adopts a new rules package, which is expected later Monday.

The Capitol physician approved the installation of a Plexiglass box in the visitors' gallery overlooking the House chamber so that lawmakers who tested negative but are supposed to be in quarantine could cast votes.