Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote US mayors, Black leaders push for passage of bipartisan infrastructure bill Lawmakers say innovation, trade rules key to small business gains MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday urged House Republicans to get their COVID-19 vaccines, suggesting the only thing preventing the chamber from resuming normal routines has been the hesitancy — or outright refusal — of GOP lawmakers to take the shot.
"The Republicans come up to me and say, 'Let's shorten the time for votes, let's shorten the time for votes.' I said, 'Well, tell your friends to get vaccinated,'" she said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
"That would help — that would help a lot."
Pelosi said the vaccination rate among House lawmakers stands at "about 75 percent" — the same figure cited by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Fifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Watch live: McCarthy holds briefing with reporters MORE (R-Calif.) more than seven weeks ago.
Yet Pelosi also acknowledged a speculative aspect of her choice to target Republicans specifically: She doesn't know which lawmakers have been vaccinated or not, and federal privacy laws prevent her from finding out — a protection she endorsed.
"The physician cannot tell us Democrats, Republicans or who," she said. "And that's right; we should be respecting people's privacy."
That she targeted Republicans reflects the highly partisan nature of the debate surrounding the response — public and private — to the deadly pandemic.
Since the virus first arrived at the tail end of the Trump administration, former President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE and Republicans have generally downplayed the public health threat and opposed tough social restrictions, warning of their harm to businesses and the economy. Democrats, in contrast, have generally sided with public health officials in support of precautions — a message Pelosi amplified on Thursday.
"We cannot require someone to be vaccinated. That's just not what we can do," she said. "But you would hope that science would guide them to protect themselves, their family members and be good colleagues in the workplace, to get vaccinated."
"And the sooner that that happens, the better for everything."
Public opinion polls have consistently shown that the single greatest factor predicting a person's willingness to be inoculated is not gender, race or region, but partisan affiliation, with Republicans much more reluctant to get a shot. A recent Monmouth University survey found that 43 percent of GOP respondents said they definitely won't get a vaccine, versus 22 percent of independents and 5 percent of Democrats.
Republican lawmakers for months have pressed Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to lift the restrictions put in place more than a year ago to fight the spread of the virus on Capitol Hill. That list includes mandatory mask-wearing in the House chamber and protracted votes to prevent over-crowding on the floor.
GOP lawmakers ramped up their criticisms this week surrounding President BidenJoe BidenFighter jet escorts aircraft that entered restricted airspace during UN gathering Julian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp MORE's televised address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening, when masks were mandatory and attendance was highly restricted in the cavernous chamber — from the typical 1,600 attendees down to just over 200.
Critics of those rules wondered why Biden, alone, was permitted to go mask-less from the dais. And they hammered Democrats for the strict social-distancing rules, accusing Pelosi of sending a dangerous message that even vaccinated people are still at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Pelosi defended the decision on Thursday, saying she's simply following the advice of the Capitol physician.
"The Capitol physician insisted that that social distancing, that mask-wearing were necessary so that we're not contributing to the spread of COVID, especially with the president of the United States there," she said.
Pelosi lamented that there are some lawmakers who continue to flout the rules. "But that's incidental," she added. "It's not anybody important."
She did not mention any lawmakers by name.
Updated at 2:23 p.m.