Iowa state Democrat flouts House dress code to protest lack of mask rules

A Democratic state lawmaker in Iowa intentionally violated the state House dress code this week by wearing jeans as part of an effort to push local Republicans to implement a mask mandate on the House floor.

Iowa state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D) informed colleagues Sunday evening that she would be wearing jeans on the House floor this week, The Des Moines Register first reported. She wore jeans on Tuesday night and told colleagues she plans to continue wearing them.

Wearing jeans is a violation of House rules that mandate "no member of the general assembly or legislative employee or intern shall be admitted to the floor of the House if attired in jeans of any color without leave of the speaker."

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The Democratic lawmaker took the step to call on Republicans to implement a mask mandate. Democrats pushed last month to add a mask mandate, along with other pandemic safety measures, to the House rules, though these efforts were rejected by Republican lawmakers.

The Register noted that while the current safety rules encourage mask wearing, it is not required, nor is the reporting of a positive COVID-19 test or contact with someone who has tested positive.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley (R) refused to let Wessel-Kroeschell speak during debate Tuesday evening, citing her violation of the dress code.

"You will not be recognized to speak for debate. You can continue to vote from the floor," Grassley said, according to the Register.

Wessel-Kroeschell on Tuesday condemned the lack of action by state Republicans on implementing a mask mandate, noting “there are five or six of their members who are never wearing masks.”

The Democrat added that her jeans are “not hurting anybody. ... Not wearing a mask can kill people.”

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“This is dangerous and they’re putting all of us in danger,” Wessel-Kroeschell said, according to the Register. “So if they can enforce a denim dress code they can also enforce a mask mandate."

Melissa Deatsch, Grassley's communications director, said in a statement shared with The Hill, "The speaker has been clear and consistent since the start of session. There is no way to enforce a mask mandate short of having state patrol remove a duly-elected representative from the floor, which is not something he is willing to do, for masks or for jeans.”

Grassley has argued that the Iowa state constitution does not grant him the authority to remove a lawmaker for failure to comply with a mask order or dress code, though he has highlighted his authority to bar lawmakers from speaking for violating House rules. 

The push among Democrats for a mask mandate comes after at least five people who work at the Iowa Capitol tested positive for COVID-19, with four reported in the last week alone.

One of those who has contracted the virus in recent days was state Rep. Amy Nielsen (D), who wrote in an email to colleagues Saturday that she had experienced mild symptoms and planned to follow safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Iowa Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported 844 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, along with 13 additional deaths, bringing the state total to more than 320,000 confirmed infections and nearly 5,000 fatalities due to the virus.

Updated at 12:28 p.m.