19 House Democrats call on Capitol physician to mandate vaccines
A group of 19 House Democrats is calling on the Capitol physician to start mandating that lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be subject to testing at least twice per week.
In a letter to the Capitol physician released on Wednesday, the Democratic lawmakers argued that “unique factors,” such as the frequent travel among members of Congress who hail from all corners of the country, make people who work in the Capitol complex more at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
“In addition to being Members of Congress who walk these halls and rely on your guidance to keep our workplace safe, we are also the managers of teams of dedicated staff members, some of whom are immunocompromised or have other health issues that leave them extraordinarily vulnerable to COVID-19. We feel the utmost responsibility to prioritize the safety of our staff, just as any employer should feel towards those who report to them,” the Democrats, led by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.), wrote in the letter to Brian Monahan, the attending physician.
“To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Capitol Hill must do everything possible to lead by example and ensure the safety of our own workforce,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Democrats added that vaccine exemptions could be granted to people due to religious beliefs or health conditions that prevent them from taking the vaccine, as long as those individuals are tested for the virus regularly.
“In these cases, or cases in which individuals are unable to, or choose not to, share proof of vaccination, we believe it is reasonable to institute regular testing requirements of at least twice per week,” they wrote.
All Democrats in the House and Senate have publicly confirmed they are vaccinated, according to a recent CNN survey. But, in a reflection of the largely GOP-leaning parts of the country with low vaccine uptake, nearly half of House Republicans have declined to say if they are vaccinated or have openly confirmed that they have no intention of getting the vaccine.
The Capitol physician reinstated a mask mandate on the House side of the complex last week amid spread of the highly contagious delta variant and a handful of breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated lawmakers and staff.
The return of the mask requirement drew outcry from Republicans, who questioned why it was being reinstated on the House side but that masks were still only “recommended” in the Senate. All but four senators are vaccinated, according to CNN’s survey.
Several Republicans refused to comply with wearing masks on the House floor last week following the Capitol physician’s announcement. At least one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mary Miller (Ill.), subsequently was issued a $500 fine by the House sergeant at arms for flouting the rules.
On Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Graham was vaccinated and urged others to do so, saying he believed his case was less severe because of his vaccination.
Any vaccine requirement on Capitol Hill would likely face more resistance from Republicans, who have largely been critical of the vaccine mandates that some businesses and governments have begun imposing on employees in recent weeks to combat the spread of the delta variant.
President Biden announced last week that federal workers would have to provide proof of vaccination or else comply with mandatory masking, distancing and weekly testing requirements.
And on Tuesday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced that people will be required to provide proof of vaccination in order to participate in activities such as indoor dining at restaurants, gyms and movie theaters.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) previously said in April that she cannot obtain data from the Capitol physician about which lawmakers are vaccinated, citing privacy issues.
“We cannot require someone to be vaccinated. That’s just not what we can do. It is a matter of privacy to know who is or who isn’t,” Pelosi said at the time.
Pelosi deferred to Monahan when asked Wednesday about the Democrats’ letter calling for vaccine or testing mandates.
“It’s up to the Capitol physician,” she told reporters in the Capitol.
—Updated at 4:19 p.m. Mike Lillis contributed.