Nancy Pelosi refuses to relax mask mandate until more Republicans in the House get vaccinated

House Republicans — dozens of whom remain unvaccinated — are seething at the Speaker's unwillingness to budge

By Jon Skolnik
Published May 14, 2021 2:14PM (EDT)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leaves her news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leaves her news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is requiring that all members in the House of Representatives continue wearing masks, despite new guidance from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indoor mask-wearing is no longer necessary. 

The revelation came during a Thursday press conference when a CNN reporter asked whether the House would now lift its mask mandate in light of the CDC's new guidelines.

"No. Are they all vaccinated?" Pelosi clapped back. 

Capitol Attending Physician Brian Monahan later confirmed the veracity of Pelosi's statement in a memo, which revealed that "the present mask requirement and other guidelines" would "remain unchanged until all Members and floor staff are fully vaccinated."

Back in March, Axios reported that about a quarter of the House had "either refused to be vaccinated, are avoiding it due to medical conditions or have not reported getting one." In April, Pelosi said she wouldn't be enforcing a vaccination mandate for members of the House.

"We cannot require someone to be vaccinated," she told reporters at the time. "That's just not what we can do, it is a matter of privacy to know who is or who isn't. I can't go to the Capitol physician and say, 'Give me the names of people who aren't vaccinated so I can go encourage them to,' or make it known to others to encourage them to be vaccinated."

Pelosi's remarks sparked predictable outrage from several of her Republican colleagues.

"It's about control," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said in a Fox News interview on Thursday evening. "She wants to control the House." 

On Friday, over 30 House Republicans penned an angry missive to Pelosi demanding that she "immediately return to normal voting procedures and end mandatory mask requirements in the House of Representatives."

"CDC guidance states fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting except where required by governmental or workplace mandate," they wrote. "It is time to update our own workplace regulations. Every member of Congress has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, and you have indicated about 75 percent have taken advantage of this opportunity."

Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, who led the charge against Pelosi, called her refusal to lift the mandate "Mask-erpiece Theater."

"Based on sound science, the CDC says those who are vaccinated have an incredibly low risk of becoming infected with coronavirus," Gibbs said in a statement. "With that data, there is no reason the House of Representatives should not be fully open and returned to normal operations."

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., echoed Gibbs on Fox News, complaining that's Pelosi's requirement is "a dumb rule to have."

Several GOP members of the House, however, have publicly refused to get vaccinated.

Freshman Reps. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., have both cited their own good health as reasons for not getting the shot.  

"I won't be taking it," Cawthorn told Axios back in December. "The survival rate is too high for me to want it."

Greene's spokesman, Nick Dyer, said: "[Greene] is a perfectly healthy woman and doesn't see a reason to do so."

Other Republicans have cited the vaccine's supposed obsolescence after infection, as the Post noted, despite a lack of scientific consensus on how long natural immunity to Covid lasts. Polling data shows that Republicans exhibit a significantly higher amount of skepticism toward the Covid vaccine, specifically amongst men.  

According to a study conducted by Robb Willer, the director of Stanford's Polarization and Social Change Lab, "unvaccinated Republicans reported 7 percent higher vaccination intentions after they were shown Republican elites' endorsement of the vaccines," as Vox noted. If Republicans leaders are to boost the vaccination rate within their own constituencies, Willer said, they may have to explicitly back pro-vaccine messaging campaigns.


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, AlterNet, and The New York Daily News.

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