House

Top House Democrat pushes for ‘isolation boxes’ for maskless lawmakers

The fourth-ranking House Democrat, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (Mass.), urged the sergeant-at-arms on Tuesday to force lawmakers who defy the chamber’s mask mandate to cast votes from enclosures in the gallery above to limit potential spread of COVID-19.

Clark said it’s clear that existing fines are not enough to deter certain lawmakers from repeatedly flouting rules requiring everyone to wear masks in the House chamber.

Two far-right Republicans, Georgia Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde, have each been fined tens of thousands of dollars for repeatedly ignoring the requirement that everyone in the House chamber wear a mask during the pandemic.

And with the highly contagious omicron variant driving caseloads in the nation’s capital to record levels, Clark argued that pandemic safety rules need to be enforced.

She suggested using plexiglass enclosures in the gallery overlooking the House chamber, which were installed last year so that lawmakers subject to quarantine could still cast votes when proxy voting was temporarily unavailable.

“This callous disregard for House rules endangers the health of members of Congress and the professional staff whose physical presence is required to ensure continuity of government,” Clark wrote in the letter to House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker.

“That is why, in addition to imposing fines, I am requesting that your office begin requiring members who fail to comply with this rule to attend the House floor from the isolation boxes in the House gallery,” Clark wrote.

“This commonsense step will not only protect our dedicated House staff from members who refuse to follow House rules, but it will also allow those members to continue to fulfill their constitutional duty to vote on matters before the House.”

The House mask mandate was first established in July 2020 because numerous GOP lawmakers refused to wear masks, including one who tested positive for COVID-19 after spending time in the chamber and at committee hearings.

The mask requirement applies to the House chamber, surrounding hallways in the Capitol and connected office buildings. The Senate side of the Capitol complex, meanwhile, does not have a mask mandate.

Walker testified before members of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that he’s had difficulty enforcing the mask mandate.

“I see people — members, staff — without masks. And I’ll walk up to them and I’ll ask them to put the mask on. And some just walk away from me. Some put it on,” Walker said.

House Democrats imposed fines to enforce the mask requirement shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol in response to several Republicans who declined to wear masks while lawmakers were crowded in a secure space together during the riot. The fines start at $500 for the first offense and $2,500 for subsequent offenses.

Most Republicans have complied with the mask requirement in the House chamber to avoid the fines. But other GOP lawmakers and their staff have pointedly ignored the mask mandate everywhere else in the Capitol complex where they aren’t subject to fines.

And the fines haven’t deterred a handful of GOP lawmakers from refusing to wear masks altogether.

Greene told Newsmax last week that she has been fined close to $90,000 for repeatedly refusing to wear a mask on the House floor. Clyde, meanwhile, has accrued at least $58,000 in mask fines.

Nine other Republicans have also been fined at least once: Reps. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa), Bob Good (Va.), Mary Miller (Ill.), Chip Roy (Texas), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Brian Mast (Fla.), Beth Van Duyne (Texas) and Thomas Massie (Ky.).

House leaders, in consultation with the Capitol physician, are urging everyone to use higher-quality masks like N95s or KN95s and spend as little time as possible on the floor during roll call votes. 

At least nine House members have tested positive for COVID-19 since the weekend.

The Capitol physician’s office disclosed last week — before the House and Senate returned to session in recent days — that the rate of positive cases at its COVID-19 testing site has shot up from less than 1 percent to 13 percent.

Tags Andrew Clyde Brian Mast Chip Roy COVID-19 isolation COVID-19 precautions Katherine Clark Lauren Boebert Marjorie Taylor Greene mask mandates omicron wave Ralph Norman Thomas Massie

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