Democrats to levy fines on maskless lawmakers on House floor
House Democrats on Tuesday will adopt new rules slapping fines on any lawmakers who refuse to wear masks on the chamber floor.
The new guidelines will hit offending lawmakers with a $500 fine on the first offense and $2,500 on the second, to be deducted from the lawmakers’ pay, according to a senior Democratic aide.
The crackdown follows at least three House members testing positive for COVID-19 after they spent hours in a crowded secure space while rioters in support of President Trump stormed the Capitol last Wednesday.
Several House Republicans were not wearing masks in that room, in violation of rules in place since July that require all members and staff to wear them in the House chamber and nearby office buildings.
Their refusal to abide by mask rules outraged Democrats and others who had no choice but to remain in the crowded room for hours while law enforcement worked to clear the Capitol of the violent mob.
The new fines will be adopted Tuesday evening as part of the rule governing House floor debate on a Democratic resolution to call for removing President Trump by way of the Constitution’s 25th Amendment. That process would force the president’s immediate removal if the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet agree to it.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a former constitutional law professor, aims to put pressure on Pence and other administration officials to take unilateral steps to oust Trump for the violence in Washington last week. The proposal is expected to pass the House Tuesday night with some bipartisan support, although Pence is unlikely to take any further action on the 25th Amendment.
As a back-up plan, House Democrats intend to impeach Trump on Wednesday, making him the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) began requiring masks on the House floor in late July after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who had been among dozens of GOP lawmakers refusing to wear a mask, tested positive.
She warned at the time that anyone not wearing a mask would be removed from the floor by the sergeant at arms. Mask compliance immediately shot up among Republicans, but has since waned at times in recent months.
Pelosi went further in mid-December and warned lawmakers that they would not be granted speaking time on the House floor if they weren’t wearing masks.
But the mask rules have not been strictly enforced.
A number of GOP lawmakers have still delivered remarks on the House floor without masks in recent days, including Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) during Wednesday’s joint session as they sought to challenge Biden’s electoral victory.
But as Democrats grew increasingly outraged over Republicans potentially exposing others in the secure room to COVID-19 during Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol, numerous lawmakers called for imposing fines to enforce compliance.
Since Monday, Democratic Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Brad Schneider (Ill.), who were all in the secure room and received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, have tested positive.
Pfizer has said the vaccine is only about 52 percent effective following the first dose, but becomes 95 percent effective after the second dose is administered three weeks later.
Lawmakers are disclosing their test results voluntarily. It’s possible that others in the room had COVID-19 on Wednesday or have since tested positive but not yet made it public.
Earlier Tuesday, Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell (Mich.) and Anthony Brown (Md.) introduced a bill that would impose a $1,000 fine on any lawmaker not wearing a mask on the Capitol grounds.
A video obtained by Punchbowl News showed several Republicans — including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Markwayne Mullin (Okla.), Scott Perry (Pa.) and Michael Cloud (Texas) — declining masks offered by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) while in the secure room.
Security officials are imposing other new rules in light of Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol.
Metal detectors have been installed around the doors to the House chamber for all who enter, which will now include lawmakers. Members of Congress could previously bypass security by flashing their lawmaker pins at police officers.
“Failure to complete screening or the carrying of prohibited items could result in denial of access to the chamber,” the acting House sergeant at arms, Timothy Blodgett, wrote in a Tuesday memo to lawmakers and staff.
“Additionally, members are reminded that they are required to wear masks when entering and while in the chamber. Members not wearing a mask will not be admitted to the floor and members who fail to wear a mask will be removed from the floor,” Blodgett added.
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