House Republicans have staged a protest against the latest Covid-19 protocols in Congress, put in place amid a surge in new infections in Washington, D.C., and around the country.
Nearly 40 maskless GOP lawmakers Thursday walked across the Capitol and onto the Senate after the Capitol physician decided to reinstate a mask mandate in the lower chamber but not in the upper chamber.
Brian Monahan reimposed the mandate for lawmakers and congressional staff, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new recommendation that vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear masks in indoor spaces.
Health experts say masks protect the vulnerable and unvaccinated as the highly transmissible delta variant drives up Covid caseloads across the United States. There has been a spike in hospitalizations, mostly in red states where the vaccination rate is low.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats have supported the policy, with Pelosi telling reporters, "It's (the) decision of the Capitol physician, who is following the guidance of the CDC about the masks."
Republicans, however, argued that the policy infringes on personal liberty, describing it as inconsistent which is based on politics, not science.
They wanted to show “what it was like on the floor of the Senate versus the floor of the House. Obviously, it’s vastly different,” a maskless Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), who served as former president Donald Trump’s White House physician, told The Hill following the protest.
Senators “have the freedom to speak without their mask on and be in there and it's not near as restrictive as it is on the House side. It makes no sense,” he added.
Meanwhile, Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger ordered officers to enforce the new mask guidelines across the Capitol complex.
He said those who refused could be denied entry to the House-side of the Capitol, suggesting that they could even be arrested.
"If a visitor or staff member fails to wear a mask after a request is made to do so, the visitor or staff shall be denied entry to the House Office Buildings or House-side of the US Capitol," Manger wrote in a letter to Capitol Police officers. "Any person who fails to either comply or leave the premises after being asked to do so would be subject to an arrest for Unlawful Entry."
On Thursday, the White House said many visitors to US federal buildings will need to be vaccinated or show proof of a recent negative Covid test, under a new policy announced by President Joe Biden.