Everyone loves to complain about work, but no one outside the office really cares about your gripes.
And if you’re a member of Congress, you have far more important things to talk about anyway than how hard it is for you to wear a mask during a pandemic.
Yet that’s what many Republican lawmakers have been doing for the last three days, breathlessly, since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reimposed a mask mandate for members, staff and visitors. The move, ordered by the congressional physician, comes in response to the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreading around the country.
House and Senate Republicans have complained on Twitter, in conservative media outlets, on the House floor, in press conferences and even in the courts about having to wear a mask at work. They have called Pelosi a dictator, a tyrant, an ”authoritarian lame-duck speaker” (what?) and dared the Capitol Police to arrest them.
While they have also complained about mask mandates in general, their public outrage this week is more focused on how inconvenient it is for them.
“Madam Speaker, you are not God,” Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) said in a floor speech, referring to Pelosi. “Your will does not bend the forest or shake the mountains. And let me assure you, your will does not bow the knee of millions of my countrymen who refuse to heed your callous command. To threaten arrest on others for their own personal medical decisions is nothing short of a medical apartheid, and I will not let it stand.”
To be clear, the House rule does not affect “millions” of Americans. It affects only House lawmakers, aides and visitors to House buildings.
Pelosi’s mask rule came after Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, wrote a memo Tuesday 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 largely voluntary for now.
The rule has only been in effect since Wednesday, which means Republican lawmakers will have only had to wear masks for three days before they adjourn for a long summer recess. When they leave Friday, they are not scheduled to be back in Congress until Sept. 20. The House mask rule could ― and likely will ― be the same when they return, but with the ever-changing pandemic, it could also be altered.
As GOP lawmakers fume about how hard it is for them to wear a mask, millions of Americans are facing the possibility of losing their homes starting Saturday, when a federal eviction moratorium is set to run out (and which President Joe Biden decided not to extend). Yet for many Republican members, their top issue was whether or not they personally have to wear a mask at work.
Republicans went big on dramatic flair, too. On Wednesday, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) tried to force the House to adjourn for the day in protest of the mask mandate.
“We have a crisis at our border and we are playing footsie with mask mandates in the people’s house. It’s absolutely absurd what this body is doing, the people’s house. It’s an embarrassment. It’s a mockery. And the American people are fed up,” Roy said in an impassioned floor speech, implying that the public cares whether lawmakers have to wear masks at work.
That same day, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) reportedly threw a mask back at a House floor staffer who tried to give her one.
Republican Reps. Thomas Massie (Ky.), Ralph Norman (S.C.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) vowed to sue Pelosi over the $500 fines they incurred in May ― before the mask rules were lifted ― for going maskless.
On Thursday, a group of Republican staffers partied maskless in the Rayburn House Office Building, cramming together in a tight space to play corn hole and beer pong (minus the beer).
That was the same day that about 40 House Republicans walked over to the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol in protest of the House mask rule since the Senate doesn’t have the same rule. Massie said they were there for a “taste of freedom.” Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have been parroting the complaints of their House colleagues.
And House GOP leaders used their final, major press conference before going on recess to ― you guessed it ― complain again about wearing masks at work. Standing behind a sign that read “Country in Crisis,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) touched on topics like crime and gas prices but kept coming back to how hard it was to wear a mask.
“This is not the America we know,” he said. “This is not Pelosi’s house. This is the people’s house.”
For her part, Pelosi called McCarthy a “moron” in response to his claim that the new House rule is not driven by science and public safety precautions.
House Republicans also made a show of outrage over a U.S. Capitol Police flyer telling officers that if visitors to House office buildings or the House side of the Capitol refused to put on a mask, they should be denied entry.
“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,” read the flyer, making clear they wouldn’t be arrested but would be “reported to the House Sergeant at Arms’ Office.”
Pelosi’s office said it had no control over the Capitol Police’s actions, and the department later clarified that it saw “no reason it should ever come to someone being arrested.”
A likely reason Congress’s attending physician recommended that House lawmakers mask up again is because, even as the delta variant of the coronavirus rapidly spreads, dozens of GOP lawmakers are either not vaccinated or won’t say if they are, according to a CNN survey in mid-May.
Every single Democratic lawmaker has been vaccinated, according to the same survey.