House Democrats are livid with some of their GOP colleagues who continue to refuse wearing masks around the Capitol, especially now that three members have contracted Covid after being locked in a room with mask-denying Republicans during the Capitol riots last week.
Now, they’re doing something about it.
Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Congressman Anthony Brown of Maryland on Tuesday introduced legislation to fine members of Congress $1,000 every time they do not wear a mask on Capitol grounds during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re done playing games. Either have some common sense and wear a damn mask or pay a fine. It’s not that complicated,” Ms Dingell said in a statement along with the release of the bill.
The congresswoman also pointed out that Republican Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died of Covid in December, leaving behind “a beautiful, young family to mourn his loss”.
Democrats have long been furious with many Republicans for their reckless approach to Covid safety protocols. That anger has fuelled verbal dust-ups in committee rooms and other confrontations.
They grew even more incensed this week after three of their own – Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, as well as Congressman Brad Schneider of Colorado – announced they’d tested positive for the virus this week after being on lockdown with some Republican members and staffers who refused to wear masks.
“I just received a positive Covid-19 test result after being locked down in a secured room at the Capitol where several Republicans not only cruelly refused to wear a mask but recklessly mocked colleagues and staff who offered them one,” Ms Jayapal wrote in a scathing Twitter thread in the early-morning hours on Tuesday.
I just received a positive COVID-19 test result after being locked down in a secured room at the Capitol where several Republicans not only cruelly refused to wear a mask but recklessly mocked colleagues and staff who offered them one.https://t.co/wVmgroKsdf
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) January 12, 2021
Members and their staff were sheltering in the room as US Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies were clearing the Capitol complex of pro-Trump rioters who had breached the building amid Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory over Donald Trump.
A video went viral over the weekend of six House Republicans in the room declining to take masks from Delaware Democratic Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, who was holding a handful and offering them to her colleagues.
Those six Republicans were Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and Congressmen Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Michael Cloud of Texas, and Doug LaMalfa of California.
Mr Mullin, declining Ms Rochester’s offer, can be heard on the video saying, “I'm not trying to get political here”.
Ms Greene’s office told CNN in a statement over the weekend: “Congresswoman Greene is a healthy adult who tested negative for Covid at the White House just this week. She does not believe healthy Americans should be forced to muzzle themselves with a mask. America needs to reopen and get back to normal.”
Mr Brown and Ms Dingell’s legislation introduced on Tuesday would levy fines for such behaviour.
It does not require passage in the Senate since it would simply amend House rules to say members are required to wear masks in the Capitol.
And if the House Ethics Committee finds that any “Member, Delegate or Resident Commissioner” violates that rule, the committee “shall fine such individual $1,000 for each day that such violation occurs,” the bill states.
In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Brown said the new rule and $1,000 fine would not only deter members from acting selfishly, but would “set an example” for Americans across the country about following Covid safety guidelines.
“There must be consequences for selfish and reckless actions that endanger the lives of others. No Member of Congress should be able to ignore the rules or put others at risk without penalty. As the people’s representatives it is critical that we set an example for the rest of the country. If Members jeopardize the safety of others they should face fines,” the congressman said.