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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Uncertainty about why only 75% of the House is confirmed as vaccinated against the coronavirus is fueling a debate about when the chamber can return to its normal rules of operation.

Between the lines: The other 25% of members have either refused to get the vaccine, have not reported getting it at home or are avoiding it because of medical conditions. Until the Office of Attending Physician is clear about this, it can't make recommendations "regarding the modification or relaxation of existing social distancing guidelines."

  • Congress has its own supply of the coronavirus vaccine. While it's not certain which party is most to blame for any vaccine hesitancy, the phenomenon is higher among white Republicans than any other demographic group, as Axios has reported.
  • “I won’t be taking it. The survival rate is too high for me to want it,” 25-year-old Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) told Axios in December.

Why it matters: Multiple waves of voting, meant to ensure social distancing inside the House chamber, are slowing a full legislative schedule.

  • It's also giving power to disrupters like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who's used a procedural move to further drag out the process.
  • Votes can take more than three times longer than pre-pandemic times.

What they're saying: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) had a lively debate on the House floor Thursday about reopening.

  • "Now that we have seen from reports ... that roughly 75% of all members in this House have had a vaccination for COVID-19, there's a strong desire to get back to a regular floor schedule," said Scalise.
  • "It would be a lot simpler if every member had been vaccinated," Hoyer replied.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent guidelines suggest avoiding "large events and gatherings, when possible."

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last Wednesday. He asked for timelines of when the House will end proxy voting, extended voting sessions and resume full-time, in-person committee hearings.

  • "Simply put: it’s time that we return to regular order. House Republicans are eager for the chance to reopen the People’s House, restore America’s voice in Congress and work day in and day out to address the many concerns our constituents face," wrote McCarthy (R-Calif.)
  • “The House continues to conduct our business in accordance with public health guidelines and in consultation with the Office of the Attending Physician," Hoyer spokesperson Margaret Mulkerrin said in a statement to Axios.
  • "The health and safety of members, legislative staff, journalists and House employees remains paramount."

What's next: A memo sent last by the Office Attending Physician, obtained by Axios, urged continued social distancing and mask-wearing by members.

  • The office cares for those in the House and Senate, as well as the Supreme Court.
  • The OAP urged members who had received vaccinations from outside the OAP's domain to report them.
  • In addition, the office said members who had previously contracted COVID-19 "are strongly encouraged to complete a full SARS-oV2 vaccination course at the earliest possible opportunity."

The bottom line: The Office of Attending Physician reinstated the use of the congressional gym showers, locker room and swimming pool on Friday evening, according to the memo.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Beto plans Texas comeback in governor's race

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Georgetown to Austin March for Democracy rally on July 31, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios.

Why it matters: O'Rourke's entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — and give O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

Texas doctor says he performed an abortion in violation of state law

Pro-choice protesters march down Congress Avenue and back to the Texas state capitol in Austin, Tx in July 2021. Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A Texas doctor disclosed in an op-ed in the Washington Post Saturday that he has performed an abortion in violation of the state's restrictive new abortion law, which bans effectively bans the procedure after six weeks.

Why it matters: Alan Braid's op-ed is a direct disclosure that will very likely result in legal action, thereby setting it up as a potential test case for how the abortion ban will be litigated, notes the New York Times.

Mike Allen, author of AM
3 hours ago - Technology

Axios interview: Facebook to try for more transparency

Nick Clegg last year. Photo: Matthew Sobocinski/USA Today via Reuters

Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, tells me the company will try to provide more data to outside researchers to scrutinize the health of activity on Facebook and Instagram, following The Wall Street Journal's brutal look at internal documents.

Driving the news: Clegg didn't say that in his public response to the series. So I called him to push for what Facebook will actually do differently given the new dangers raised by The Journal.

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