House GOP fights back against mask, metal detector fines

GOP lawmakers are doing everything they can to avoid paying fines for running afoul of rules imposed by Democrats that require masks and security screenings before entering the House chamber.

At least six Republicans have been fined in recent days for protesting the House floor mask requirement, adding to five others since February who were penalized for failing to complete security screenings.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) responded to a $500 mask fine by tweeting a photo of the notification thrown into a trash can, while Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) said on Fox News this past week that he is “not, by any means, going to willingly give [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi one penny from this world.”

Lawmakers can appeal the fines to the House Ethics Committee, which so far has upheld metal detector penalties against two Republicans and dropped two others against Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

The hefty monetary enforcements are yet another example of the distrust that has deepened since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Democrats say they can’t count on certain Republicans to abide by safety measures, while GOP lawmakers argue the fines are an unnecessary power grab by the House majority.

Failing to wear a mask results in a $500 fine for the first offense, followed by $2,500 for subsequent violations.

If a lawmaker fails to complete a security screening before entering the House chamber, they are hit with a $5,000 fine. Repeat offenders receive a $10,000 fine.

The rules state that the fines will be deducted from the offending lawmaker’s salary and can’t be paid for with office budget or campaign funds.

Mast was among several Republicans who staged a protest on the House floor against the mask requirement following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that fully vaccinated individuals don’t need facial coverings in most settings. 

Mast and Massie are both appealing their $500 fines. A third Republican, Rep. Ralph Norman (S.C.), will likely appeal his fine as well but is still exploring his options, according to a spokesperson. 

At least three other Republicans — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Beth Van Duyne (Texas) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa) — were also issued mask fines. It’s not clear whether they will appeal.

“I am fully vaccinated and followed the science,” Mast wrote in his appeal to the House Ethics Committee.

Mast further argued that the fine was unconstitutional and “unenforceable,” citing in part the Constitution’s 27th Amendment that prohibits any change in the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until after the next election.

While Mast, Miller-Meeks and Norman have all confirmed they are fully vaccinated, the other Republicans fined for going maskless have either declined to disclose their vaccination status or openly said they aren’t vaccinated.

Massie has said he’s declining a vaccine because he previously tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, even though the CDC recommends that people who recovered from the virus should still get vaccinated. 

He questioned why masks are only required in specific places in the Capitol.

“Why ONLY where @cspan cameras are? Because it’s THEATER not SCIENCE,” Massie tweeted, calling the mask fines “ridiculous” and “tyrannical.”

The Capitol’s attending physician, Brian Monahan, explained in a memo that masks are still required in the House chamber unless members are recognized to speak during debate because it is “the only location where the entire Membership gathers periodically throughout the day in an interior space.” 

Masks are also required in House committees.

But Monahan has given the green light for fully vaccinated people to go maskless in places like hallways, individual offices or elevators. And across the Capitol, masks have never been mandatory in the Senate, where all but a few senators are now vaccinated.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has responded to Republican protests by saying they should all get vaccinated if they want the mask mandate lifted. A recent CNN survey found that all Democrats in the House and Senate confirmed they are vaccinated.

“We have a responsibility to make sure that the House of the Representatives Chamber is not a petri dish because of the selfishness of some not to be vaccinated or to insist – or to wear a mask,” Pelosi said.

“Do you want them breathing in your face on the strength of their honor?” she asked.

Fines to enforce House rules are not unprecedented. In 2017, House Republicans enacted fines — $500 for the first offense and $2,500 for subsequent incidents — to enforce the prohibition on lawmakers taking photos or live video on the floor after Democrats staged a sit-in to protest inaction on gun control legislation.

Democrats also felt they had to impose fines to compel enforcement of security screenings enacted in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot after several Republicans refused to go through newly installed metal detectors outside the House chamber.

An incident in which a metal detector caught a concealed gun on Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) further confirmed Democrats’ fears that some Republicans might not be following the rules prohibiting firearms on the House floor.

The House Ethics Committee upheld fines against Reps. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) for failing to complete the security screenings, while two other cases involving Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) are pending.

Clyde has said he will file a lawsuit in federal court to challenge the fines totaling $15,000 levied against him, but it’s unclear if the fine has been deducted from his salary. Aides to Clyde and Gohmert didn’t respond when asked if the lawmakers have paid their fines.

Democrats defending the penalties argue that rules enforcing metal detector screenings or masks enforce what they believe is ultimately a minor inconvenience.

“There are a lot of workplaces that have rules and there are a lot of workers in this country who have to follow the rules or face consequences,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

“I think we’ve got a very privileged life. I don’t think we ought to be complaining on small things like that,” Khanna said.

Tags Andy Harris Brian Mast Coronavirus COVID-19 Hal Rogers House floor jan. 6 Lloyd Smucker Louie Gohmert Marjorie Taylor Greene mask mandate metal detectors Nancy Pelosi Pandemic Ralph Norman Ro Khanna Thomas Massie Virginia Foxx
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