Roughly one month after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its face mask guidance for vaccinated individuals, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has finally followed suit for members of Congress and their staffers.
No longer will members of the House be required to wear masks on the chamber floor or in committee meetings, the Washington Examiner reports, following the release of new guidance by the Capitol’s attending physician on Friday.
Concurrent with the relaxation of the mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals — as those who are not vaccinated are still required to wear masks — was the dropping of the social distancing requirements that had also been imposed on House lawmakers and staffers.
USA Today reported that the new guidance from Attending Physician Brian Monohan stated “fully vaccinated individuals may discontinue mask wear and 6-foot social distance separations in most situations consistent with the CDC revision regarding fully vaccinated individuals of May 13, 2021.”
Even more so than the relaxed mask mandate, the ending of the social distancing requirements will represent a significant step back to normalcy, at least in terms of voting procedures, as only small handfuls of members were allowed on the House floor to cast votes at the same time, which resulted in much longer times for members to complete procedural moves.
Now, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office, the group system will no longer be utilized and votes will be closed after 20 minutes, though the proxy voting system introduced last year, in which a member may designate another member to vote on their behalf, will remain in place for the time being.
Estimated 85% fully vaccinated
House Republicans loudly demanded that Speaker Pelosi relax the mask mandate since the CDC’s revamped guidelines, but she had steadfastly resisted those calls and even insisted that the mandate would remain in place until every single member and staffer had been fully vaccinated, NBC News reported.
That goal of full vaccination for every member and staffer hasn’t been met, but a senior Democratic aide told NBC that the House guidance had been changed due to the “decrease of community transmission and the increase in the rate of vaccine” that is now estimated to include around 85% of everyone on Capitol Hill.
That is an increase over the 75% estimate of fully vaccinated House members when the CDC guidance was changed last month.
Republicans fought back
House Republicans had fought Pelosi over her insistence on maintaining the mask mandate over the past month, with some members even staging maskless protests on the House floor in violation of Pelosi’s rule, behavior that was subject to a $500 fine for a first offense and $2,500 for subsequent violations.
As the Examiner noted, Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), one of the protesting Republicans who was fined over his defiance of Pelosi’s mask mandate, tweeted out in celebration of the new guidance: “PELOSI CAVES. FREEDOM PREVAILS.”
It will be interesting to see how Pelosi handles this change going forward and if she will continue to financially penalize unvaccinated members who forgo a mask on the House floor.