The top House Democratic lawmaker is asking the House sergeant at arms to require maskless members of Congress to cast their votes from “isolation boxes” which are located at the House gallery above the main floor, for the reason of the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Democratic Rep. Katherine Clark suggested the measure because fines have not stopped some members flouting the rules. She sent a letter Tuesday to the House sergeant at arms calling for what she termed “isolation boxes” to be built for members who refuse to wear masks in the chamber despite House rules that levy fines for violations.
According to the Washington Post, Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew S. Clyde of Georgia have emerged as top scofflaws with more than $100,000 in fines.
Her request goes a step beyond House Resolution 38, which requires the Sergeant at Arms to impose fines on Congressmembers who refuse to accord with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s policy requiring members wear masks when attending House floor sessions.
Under H.R. 38, Congress members may be fined $500 for their first offense against the mask mandate and $2,500 for each subsequent offense.
“This callous disregard for House rules endangers the health of members of Congress and the professional staff whose physical presence is required to ensure continuity of government,” Clark wrote in a letter to Walker. The mask restriction, she adds, has only become more pressing during the Omicron variant surge.
“This has only become more urgent with the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant and what the Attending Physician describes as ‘unprecedented number of cases in the Capitol community,’” Clark wrote.
“That is why, in addition to imposing fines, I am requesting that your office begin requiring Members who fail to comply with this rule to attend the House floor from the isolation boxes in the House Gallery,” she wrote.
“These boxes were designed to minimize the risk of exposure to quarantined Members, yet those who refuse to mask pose the same or higher risk of exposing individuals around them to COVID. This commonsense step will not only protect our dedicated House staff from Members who refuse to follow House rules, but it will also allow those Members to continue to fulfill their constitutional duty to vote on matters before the House,” she said.
The isolation boxes have previously been used for House members who have been exposed to COVID.
As #Omicron rages, Members breaking House rules by refusing to #maskup are threatening our dedicated staff and Members. Fines are not enough. I’m calling for unmasked Members to attend the floor and vote from the isolation boxes in the House Gallery. Read more⬇️ pic.twitter.com/UTDAJDlqiE
— Katherine Clark (@RepKClark) January 11, 2022
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is also advising members to wear N95 or KN95 masks on the House floor, regardless of vaccination status, and is strongly discouraging congregating during votes. Ahead of votes Tuesday, Insider saw GOP Rep. Mary Miller of Illinois walk into the Capitol maskless, only to be handed a KN95 mask before entering the House chamber.
“Does Nancy have one of these? She had a cloth one yesterday,” she said, making a sarcastic reference to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
During the pandemic, the House has instituted a “proxy voting” system that allows members to designate colleagues to vote for them, allowing them to avoid the chamber if they’re worried about the COVID-19 risk.
Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky called such action unconstitutional and also questioned Clark’s title of “assistant speaker,” which Pelosi created in 2018, according to The Hill.
#1, What the Sam Hill is “Assistant Speaker of the House?” Can’t find that in my Constitution.
#2, We’re suing the Speaker of the House for her mask rule/fines. Do you want sued too for literally trying to put us in a plexiglass box? This is prohibited by the Constitution. pic.twitter.com/swzeMRlU3k
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) January 11, 2022
On Monday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said in a memo that members should wear N95 masks and scurry back to their offices after voting to minimize the sphere of the virus.
“Members are further advised to exit the House Floor immediately after voting,” the memo said. “Members are also strongly discouraged from congregating on the House Floor and in the surrounding areas during votes.