WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy traded barbs Wednesday over the return of a mask mandate in the U.S. House and a number of Republicans protested the renewed rules on the floor.
Pelosi called McCarthy a "moron." McCarthy said Pelosi was creating rules that aren't supported by science.
The spat is the latest in a series of high-profile disagreements among House members about measures designed to curb the spread of Covid, an ongoing dispute about masks, distancing and vaccines that has mirrored national divisions about the measures that are necessary to stop the virus.
Pelosi had repeatedly criticized House Republicans for failing to get enough members vaccinated despite being some of the first Americans with access to the shots. The No. 2 Republican in the House, Steve Scalise, announced last week that after waiting, he had been vaccinated and felt it was safe.
In an alert to House members Tuesday, Capitol physician Brian Monahan said that people are required to wear masks again inside the chamber, office buildings and in committee meetings.
McCarthy tweeted about the new mandate Tuesday evening, saying that the updated requirement “is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.”
“He’s such a moron,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday about McCarthy when asked for her reaction.
In response, McCarthy told reporters, “Well, if she’s so brilliant, can she tell me where the science in the building changes between the House and the Senate? Can she explain to me when the CDC says only vaccinated people need to wear a mask in hot spots?”
McCarthy previously disclosed he received the vaccination and separately tested positive for Covid antibodies, indicating he at one point was infected.
McCarthy said that Washington, D.C., is not a hot spot, but Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the district health department, said Tuesday, “Similar to trends across the nation, the District of Columbia has experienced a four-fold increase in its daily case rate since the beginning of July. D.C.’s transmission increase is driven primarily by unvaccinated individuals.”
Monahan said “for all House Office Buildings, the Hall of the House, and House Committee Meetings, wearing of a well-fitted, medical grade, filtration face mask is required when an individual is in an interior space and other individuals are present.”
The Capitol physician said in a separate letter to Senate leaders Wednesday evening that he recommends that their members and staff wear masks indoors on Capitol Hill in response to new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Amid concerns about the new delta variant, the CDC recommended indoor mask use in areas of the United States with high transmission rates after new data suggested fully vaccinated individuals are not just contracting Covid, but could also potentially be infecting others.
The House previously had a mask mandate in place at the height of the pandemic and gradually relaxed guidelines until they were fully lifted for vaccinated people in June. The Senate, however, never had a mask mandate in place, though many senators chose to wear masks inside anyway.
The Constitution explicitly allows each chamber of Congress to write its own rules and set its own punishments for "disorderly Behaviour." In the Democratic-controlled House, that largely means the decision lies with Pelosi.
In protest of the new mandate Wednesday, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, forced a vote for the House to adjourn.
“Which is it? Vaccines or masks? Do the vaccines work or not? Do the masks work or don't work? I'd like to know which it is. I'd like Dr. Fauci to come down and answer a single question about natural immunity. If you have been infected with the virus, do you have immunity?” Roy said in a passionate speech on the House floor.
He added, “This institution is a sham. We should adjourn and shut this place down.“
Several Republicans on Wednesday refused to comply with the latest requirement to wear masks on the House floor including Roy and Reps. Lauren Boebert, of Colorado; Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia; and Andy Biggs, of Arizona.
Earlier this year, Greene compared the House mask mandate to the Holocaust and later apologized after visiting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.