Pelosi announces change to House floor mask rules

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced that rules requiring all lawmakers and staff to wear masks on the House floor will be relaxed slightly: lawmakers can now remove them while recognized to speak during debate.

Pelosi said the change is in accordance with updated guidance from the Capitol’s attending physician.

“To be clear, members and staff must wear masks in the hall of the House at all times, except that a member may remove their mask when recognized by the chair. In addition, members presiding as chair may remove their mask when speaking,” Pelosi said while opening the House session for the day.

The change returns the House to a previous stance on mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

House members were originally allowed to remove their masks while speaking before the cameras during floor debate and in committees. That exception was initially permitted due to concerns that people with hearing problems wouldn’t be able to read lips while watching proceedings on television.

But Pelosi announced in mid-December — amid a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases — that lawmakers would be required to keep the masks on at all times.

Democrats later voted in January to impose fines on any members who don’t comply with the mask requirement on the House floor: $500 for the first offense and $2,500 for the second.

Across the Capitol, meanwhile, there is no mask requirement in the Senate chamber. But the vast majority of senators and staff have nonetheless worn masks in compliance with health guidelines.

Tuesday’s announcement signals another small step by House leadership toward lifting COVID-19 restrictions as more people get vaccinated. Last month, House Democratic leaders reduced the time for each socially distanced House floor vote from 45 minutes to 30 minutes.

Pelosi last estimated that about 75 percent of House members have been vaccinated, a figure unchanged since March. Until that number goes up, Pelosi said, the House won’t fully return to pre-pandemic operations.

COVID-19 cases among members of Congress dropped dramatically after they started receiving vaccines in December. No lawmakers in either chamber have revealed testing positive for COVID-19 since late January.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 House House rules Masks Nancy Pelosi Pandemic Social distancing Speaker
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