Senators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate

U.S. Senate Chamber
Greg Nash

Senators largely shed their masks as they returned to the Capitol on Monday, marking a step back toward pre-pandemic normalcy after more than one year.

Monday’s session comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance late last week that vaccinated individuals no longer have to wear masks in most settings indoors or outdoors.

“I think it’s just kind of the CDC guidance,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) in regards to how senators decided to mask up, or not, as they returned to the Capitol for a procedural vote. 

In a shift, both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were maskless on Monday. In the immediate wake of the CDC guidance on Thursday, Schumer left the building with his mask on while McConnell declared that he was “free at last” while leaving without a mask.

But their No. 2s split on Monday, with Thune maskless and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Democratic whip, spotted on the floor wearing a mask.

The to-mask-or-not-to-mask decision didn’t break evenly along party lines.

Though most Republicans weren’t wearing masks on Monday, GOP Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Mike Rounds (S.D.) were among those spotted with face coverings.

Others including Sen. Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Todd Young (Ind.) walked onto the floor wearing masks before removing them. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was spotted both wearing a mask and not wearing a mask.

Democrats were more evenly split.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the No. 3 Democratic senator, was masked, while Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the No. 4 Democrat, was unmasked.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) had his mask on when he walked onto the Senate floor for Monday’s vote but took it off while talking with Schumer and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was wearing a mask when she entered the Capitol on Monday, but when a reporter noted she didn’t have to anymore she took it off.

“Oh yeah, I don’t,” she remarked as she removed the face covering.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had a mask on while briefly presiding over the Senate and when leaving the Capitol on Monday night, but was spotted maskless on the floor.

Others like Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) were carrying their masks, while several including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) were unmasked.

But a significant number Democrats were still wearing masks including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who also caucuses with Democrats.

The Senate, unlike the House, never had a formal mask mandate, though most lawmakers wore them around the Capitol.

A CNN survey from earlier this month also found that 96 out of the chamber’s 100 members had been fully vaccinated, which allows them not to wear masks under more circumstances under the CDC’s new guidance.

The House is keeping its mask requirement in place on the floor, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) relaxed it slightly to allow for the removal of masks when members are speaking.

The House also announced on Monday that it would extend proxy voting into next month due to the pandemic. 

House Republicans have been pushing for a return to normal pre-pandemic operations given that roughly 75 percent of House members are vaccinated, but Democratic leaders have been reluctant to scrap their mask rules until all members are vaccinated.

Tags Angus King Ben Cardin Bernie Sanders Bob Casey Brian Schatz Chuck Schumer Dan Sullivan Debbie Stabenow Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Gary Peters Joe Manchin John Thune Jon Tester Kirsten Gillibrand Martin Heinrich Mike Rounds Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Patrick Leahy Patty Murray Richard Shelby Rob Portman Robert Menendez Ron Wyden Todd Young
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