House Republicans plan rebellion over mask rules

By | May 18, 2021

A GOP-led revolt over masks is brewing inside the House as the Capitol wrestles with how and when to return to pre-pandemic routines.

Rep. Brian Mast of Florida stood up during a GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning and told his colleagues that he’s “done” wearing masks and will refuse to wear them on the House floor going forward, even if it means being fined, according to multiple sources in the room.

Mast, who has been vaccinated, confirmed his closed-door comments to POLITICO and added that “many” other Republicans have said they will follow suit, teeing up a showdown with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy informed the conference he plans to introduce a privileged motion on the topic Wednesday, though language is still being worked out, sources said. And Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and top House Republicans — including McCarthy and committee ranking members — pressed Pelosi in a new letter on Tuesday to ease proxy voting measures and to lift mask mandates in light of the new CDC guidelines released last week, which loosened rules for vaccinated individuals.

Tensions are near a boiling point between the two parties over pandemic-era protocols, which have been a point of contention for more than a year. But Republicans are furious that mask mandates are still in place for both the House floor and committee meeting spaces, despite CDC guidance. Pelosi has also extended proxy voting until July, which has been another source of frustration in the GOP.

“None of us want to be fined but if we’re vaccinated and CDC guidance says resume normal behavior then let’s do it,” Mast said.

But Pelosi and Democrats have said that they could resume normal life more quickly if more of their Republican colleagues got vaccinated. The Capitol has slowly shown signs of creaking back to life: Votes are now 30 minutes rather than 45 minutes, and Democrats are expecting to resume their in-person caucus meetings after the recess, Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York announced Tuesday.

“CDC guidelines are also very clear that the workplace can decide [their rules] based on their own unique conditions. I think we can acknowledge that the House floor is a very unique condition,” Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, vice chair of the Democratic caucus, said at a press conference. “Until we receive further guidance from the office of attending physician, we will be required to wear masks.”

Lawmakers face a fine of $500 if they do not wear masks on the House floor, under current rules, and a $2,500 fine for a second offense. The money is deducted from their salary.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.