Capitol Police asked to arrest the maskless

Congressional aides and visitors to the House side of the Capitol will face arrest if they're not wearing masks, the head of the U.S. Capitol Police announced this week.

In a Wednesday letter to his officer corps, Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger ordered that they enforce the new mask guidelines across the Capitol complex. Those new rules, installed by the Capitol physician earlier in the week, include a mask mandate on the House side of the Capitol and all House office buildings.

The new policy has been hammered by House Republicans, who say it's merely an effort by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Fixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates MORE (D-Calif.) to exert control over half of the Capitol. Still, she has law enforcement now on her side.

ADVERTISEMENT

"If a visitor or staff member fails to wear a mask after a request is made to do so, the visitor or staff shall be denied entry to the House Office Buildings or House-side of the U.S. Capitol," Manger wrote in his letter. "Any person who fails to either comply or leave the premises after being asked to do so would be subject to an arrest for Unlawful Entry."

Although the same mask mandate applies to members of Congress, the same strict enforcement will not. Rather, Capitol Police are asked to report recalcitrant lawmakers to supervising officers "who will, in turn, refer the matter to the House Sergeant at Arms," wrote Manger, who took over as head of the Capitol Police just a week ago.

The letter was blasted out on Twitter Thursday morning by GOP Rep. Kat Cammack (Fla.). Although the policy originated from the Capitol Police chief, Cammack characterized it as "today's edition of Pelosi's abuse of power."

Rep. Nancy MaceNancy MaceACLU, NAACP sue South Carolina over redistricting delay Hillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — Senators gear up for Facebook hearing House passes legislation to strengthen federal cybersecurity workforce MORE (R-S.C.) went a long step further, announcing that she will not wear a mask outside the House chamber, and daring Pelosi to discipline her.

"Madam Speaker, your insane power grab is showing," Mace tweeted. "Today I’m not wearing a mask outside of the chamber b/c I follow science — not Pelosi. Come and get me."

ADVERTISEMENT

The Capitol Police issued a brief statement Thursday afternoon, pointing out that there would be no incident if everyone just follows the rules and wears a mask. 
 
“Regarding the House rules about masks, there is no reason it should ever come to someone being arrested," the department said in an email. "Anyone who does not follow the rules will be asked to wear a mask or leave the premises. The Department’s requirement for officers to wear masks is for their health and safety.”  
 
The new enforcement policy is just the latest chapter in the months-long battle over public health guidelines surrounding COVID-19, a debate that's taken on a decidedly partisan air since the pandemic arrived more than 18 months ago.

Pelosi, citing the advice of the Capitol physician Brian Monahan, has backed strict mask rules in the Capitol, particularly for the House floor, and is supporting Monahan's latest requirement for mask-wearing across the House side of the complex.

That mandate came on the heels of new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is recommending that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in certain regions to combat the delta variant of the coronavirus, which is spiking across the country.

ADVERTISEMENT

"That's the purview of the Capitol physician ... the mandate from him. I have nothing to say about that except we honor it," Pelosi said Wednesday.

Republicans have a decidedly different view, saying the mask mandate is an infringement on their personal liberties and has no place in the Capitol, schools or anywhere else. On Wednesday, the first day of the new mask policy, a number of Republican lawmakers flouted the requirement on the House floor.

GOP leaders are piling on.

Behind House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyFixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates Schiff: McCarthy 'will do whatever Trump tells him' if GOP wins back House House GOP campaign arm raises .8 million in third quarter MORE (R-Calif.), Republicans on Thursday accused Pelosi and the Biden administration of adopting new COVID-19 restrictions with no scientific basis behind them. They're quick to point out that the Senate side of the Capitol does not have the same mask mandate as the House side.

"Somewhere in the middle of that dome, the science changes," McCarthy said Thursday during an event on the Capitol steps, where Republicans blamed Democrats for rising inflation, the migrant surge at the border and public distrust in COVID-19 prevention measures.

"This is not Pelosi's House," he added, "this is the people's House."