Jan 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Top House Democrat pushes "isolation boxes" for unmasked colleagues

Members of congress sitting on the floor.

Newly elected members of Congress attend a briefing during orientation at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 13, 2020. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) on Tuesday called for lawmakers who repeatedly defy the House chamber mask requirement to be restricted from the House floor.

Why it matters: The demand comes amid a raft of new restrictions in the House aimed at combating the highly infectious Omicron variant, which has caused a surge of coronavirus cases.

  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is urging members to vote quickly, avoid congregating on the floor and wear KN95 masks rather than cloth or surgical masks.
  • In addition, the Capitol's administrative office has announced allotments of KN95s and at-home tests to House offices.

Driving the news: Just on Monday, the House Ethics Committee revealed Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) have all been slapped with fines for violating the mask mandate in late November and early December.

  • The fines are $500 for the first offense and $2,500 for each subsequent one, though some lawmakers have received first-offense warnings.
  • Greene and Clyde in particular have been outlaws when it comes to the rule. The two had reportedly incurred over $100,000 in combined penalties as of the end of last year.

What they're saying: Clark, the assistant House speaker, said in a letter to House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker that the fines "have proven insufficient to prevent some Members from repeatedly violating this common sense rule."

  • Singling out Clyde and Greene, Clark continued, "This callous disregard for House rules endangers the health of Members of Congress and ... staff whose physical presence is required to ensure continuity of government."
  • Clark asked Walker to force members who refuse to mask up on the floor to vote from "isolation boxes" placed in the gallery above the chamber.

The backdrop: The idea is not without precedent. The method was used last January to allow members who had been exposed to the virus to vote for speaker.

  • "Those who refuse to mask pose the same or higher risk of exposing individuals around them to COVID" as those members, Clark asserted in her letter.
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