House Republican leaders held a press conference on Thursday to deliver a powerful parting message to America before they head home for a two-month recess: We hate wearing masks at work.
“We have a country in crisis,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), gathered with GOP lawmakers in front of the Capitol.
He jumped from topic to topic to suggest a crisis ― crime, gas prices, border security ― before turning to new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about wearing masks as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreads around the country. He called the nation’s top public health agency “a political arm” of the Biden administration and said it “wants to control every element of our life.”
And then, McCarthy shared how hard it has been for Republicans to put their masks on when they go into the House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reimposed a mask mandate on Tuesday after Dr. Brian Monahan, Congress’ attending physician, issued new recommendations saying that all House members and staff ― regardless of vaccination status ― must wear a “well-fitted, medical grade, filtration face mask” at work. The Senate’s mask policy is still largely voluntary for now, which House Republicans say isn’t fair since they have to wear masks.
“We stand out here in front of the Capitol by the chambers of the House, but as you look across on the other steps is the Senate. I’m not quite sure where the CDC got, but somewhere in the middle of that dome, the science changes,” McCarthy said to chuckles from his caucus.
“This is not the America we know,” he added. “This is not Pelosi’s house. This is the people’s house.”
McCarthy said House Republicans “have had enough” and pledged that they will “not allow the CDC to be political,” referring to the agency recommending that people in certain areas wear masks indoors again to protect themselves and others from the delta variant.
“The Republican Congress will not allow this to happen,” McCarthy declared.
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) said Pelosi wants Republicans to talk about how they have to wear masks at work ― and then went on to talk about it.
“She wants us to talk about this ridiculous mask mandate,” Gonzales said. “She wants to divide us. But we’re not going to be divided.”
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), who reminded people that he is a doctor (he is a podiatrist), complained that he has to wear a mask in the Capitol while residents of Washington, D.C., don’t have to wear masks around the city.
“The CDC guidelines and mask mandates being inflicted on the House of Representatives doesn’t match guidelines for D.C.,” said Wenstrup, motioning to people at the GOP’s outdoor event. “Look at you, you’re not wearing masks. Because D.C. is not requiring it because of the CDC guidelines. Yet that is somehow being ignored once you walk into this side of the building.”
House Republicans have been melting down ever since the mask requirement was reimposed on Tuesday. Some erupted in yelling and verbal altercations. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) even tried, unsuccessfully, to get the House to adjourn for the day on Wednesday because he didn’t want to wear a mask.
For all their complaints, House Republicans will only have to wear masks at work for three days. The House is adjourning on Friday until Sept. 20, so they are going home for nearly two months and will be subject to whatever mask guidelines are in place in their districts.
A likely reason Congress’ attending physician recommended that House lawmakers wear masks again is because dozens of House Republicans are either not vaccinated or won’t say if they are, per a CNN survey in mid-May.
Every House and Senate Democrat is vaccinated, according to the same survey.