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Republican members of Congress are protesting the idea of having to wear masks again, as the House reinstated its mandate on face coverings amid surging cases of the coronavirus across the US.
The mandate came on Tuesday evening, shortly after the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that fully vaccinated people should wear masks in settings where there are high numbers of coronavirus infections.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy criticised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reintroducing the mandate as unscientific, to which she could be heard saying “he’s such a moron”, after speaking to reporters.
When The Independent asked House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who recently received his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, whether he felt safe in the House despite being only partially vaccinated, Mr Scalise, who was wearing a mask, said “yes”.
Rep Chip Roy of Texas delivered a fiery speech criticising Democrats for not focusing on the border and for saying people need to get a vaccine, only to encourage the continued use of face masks.
“Which is it? Vaccines or masks,” Mr Roy asked and in turn forced a motion to adjourn the House, which failed.
“So of course we should adjourn to save the American people from the garbage that Pelosi and Democrats are shoving down the throats of the American people,” Mr Roy said.
But Mr Roy deferred when he was asked if he was vaccinated.
“None of your business,” the Texas Republican told The Independent.
Similarly, Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida said he was opposed to the mask mandate in the House. But he deferred when asked about whether he was vaccinated.
“That’s a very nosy question,” the usually chatty Mr Gaetz said.
Mr Gaetz’s ally in the House, Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, said Democrats were being hypocritical because they “have the border wide open” to immigrants who could be coming with Covid-19.
“They really don’t care. If they did care, then they would not only stop then, but Fauci wouldn’t have funded gain-of-function research with our tax dollars,” she said.
Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has previously rejected claims that the National Institutes of Health had funded gain-of-function-research – wherein a studied pathogen is altered to make more transmissible to study emerging diseases and therefore, combat them with vaccines.
Rep Pat Fallon of Texas said it was frustrating that as soon as “some god down in Atlanta”, likely referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said people didn’t have to wear masks, Democrats stopped wearing masks, but then once “the god” said masks were needed, Democrats wore masks.
“I’m paying the fines, I’m not wearing the damn mask,” he said.
The divide has led to disputes between vaccinated Democrats and unvaccinated Republicans, as was the case when Rep Byron Donalds, a Republican from Florida, had an exchange with Rep Jared Huffman, a Democrat from California.
Mr Huffman said the argument began when he and Mr Donalds were trying to get into the same elevator. Mr Huffman said he had seen Mr Donalds say on CNN he was unvaccinated.
“And as I was turning away I said I think it’s not OK to be unvaccinated, unmasked and getting on an elevator with a bunch of people,” Mr Huffman said.
The two then met upstairs and Mr Huffman said he reiterated what he said.
“I then saw him upstairs and just reiterated I think you’re being incredibly selfish. And that’s when he said mind your own business, et cetera,” Mr Huffman said.
Mr Donalds claimed he said that because Mr Huffman was minding his business unprompted.
“He’s already gone to the metal detectors. He turns, talks to me like ‘you need to go get vaccinated and stop being selfish’ and I looked at him like ‘Mind your business’ because it’s none of his concern,” Mr Donalds said.
But Mr Huffman is not the only Democrat frustrated by Republicans’ actions. Rep Mark Pocan of Wisconsin sent a letter to Dr Brian Monahan, the attending physician for the United States Congress, requesting to know how many members have not yet confirmed with the office that they have been vaccinated.
“I’m trying to decide if they are dumb as rocks or stubborn as rocks,” he said. “I’d just like to have a rough idea of how many of them I should be avoiding in general.”
Republican freshman Rep Nancy Mace of South Carolina said she thought it was odd that the mandate only applied to the House rather than the Senate but that she heard over lunch it might apply to the Senate starting Thursday.
“Even the CDC’s guidance says that only hotspots, do you need to be in a mask, and here this is not a hotspot,” she said, noting that 85 per cent of members had been vaccinated, not to mention people who had Covid-19.
“I’ve had Covid, and I’ve been vaccinated, we need to set a good example to lead our country through this crisis, and rather than politicizing this sort of thing, I don’t agree with that at all,” she said, adding that she doesn’t shake hands and will wear her mask in the chamber.