- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday the House will follow the Capitol physician's recommendation and bring back face coverings.
- Pelosi's office called GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy "moronic" for saying the new guidance, first issued by the CDC, is "not a decision based on science."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday for criticizing the decision to reintroduce mask requirements in the House of Representatives, after the Capitol physician recommended doing so due to concern over the fast spreading delta variant.
Pelosi reportedly called McCarthy "such a moron" for opposing the reintroduction of mask mandates. The House speaker's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said he could not verify that she called the Republican minority leader the name due to poor audio quality.
Hammill did confirm, however, that Pelosi believes opposing mask requirements as contrary to science is "moronic."
McCarthy expressed his criticism for the mandate late Tuesday, after the Capitol physician recommended that members of Congress resume wearing masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
"Make no mistake—The threat of bringing masks back 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," McCarthy tweeted.
When asked about Pelosi's comment, McCarthy challenged the House speaker to explain the science behind the mask mandate.
"If she's so brilliant can she tell me where the science changes in the building between the House and the Senate," McCarthy told reporters.
"Can she explain to me when the CDC says only vaccinated people need to wear a mask in hot spots? Can she explain to me if DC is a hot spot when it's clarified by everybody else it's not with more than 86 percent of vaccination within here? Can she explain to me the less then 1 percent infected there? So a lot of questions," he continued.
The CDC partially reversed its mask guidance on Tuesday, recommending that people in areas with high Covid transmission rates resume wearing masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
DC's level of community transmission of the virus is "moderate," according to the CDC's data tracker that is updated daily. However, Capitol physician Dr. Brian Monahan said the mask requirement is necessary again because some individuals in Congress are travelling to areas with high transmission rates.
McCarthy tweeted at Pelosi late Wednesday.
"Speaker Pelosi wants you to do as she says, not as she does. She and President Biden are doing everything possible to keep you living in fear with your mask, even if you've been vaccinated," McCarthy tweeted.
Tension over the mask mandate also boiled over on the House floor on Wednesday.
The House is voting to adjourn the day, a motion offered by GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Texas in protest over the House's compliance with the mask requirement.
In a speech, Roy questioned why people should be required to wear masks if they have been vaccinated.
"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? Or are they going to go around poking people saying you must take a vaccine?" Roy said in a speech on the House floor Wednesday.
"Oh but sorry, the vaccine doesn't work, you must wear a mask. This institution is a sham. We should adjourn and shut this place down."
The CDC changed its mask guidance for the vaccinated due to mounting concern over the rapidly spreading delta variant, which has become the dominant strain worldwide including in the U.S.. Though vaccines remain highly effective in prevent severe illness and death from Covid, there is growing evidence that people who are immunized can still transmit the virus to others.
"This is some serious nanny state stuff that will only breed resentment. No kidding. Consider resentment being magnified right here on the floor of the House of Representatives," Roy said. "We are absolutely sick and tired of it. So are the American people. This sham of an institution is doing nothing for the American people.
Several other GOP representatives have opposed the requirement, including Andy Biggs of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
On Tuesday, Greene and two other Republican representatives filed a lawsuit accusing Pelosi of violating the Constitution when their paychecks were docked for refusing to wear masks on the House floor earlier this year. Greene, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina were each fined $500 for refusing to comply with rules mandating masks on the House floor.
Late Wednesday, House Republicans had a meeting with the Capitol physician about re-imposing the mask mandate on the House floor.
Multiple GOP lawmakers criticized the CDC's updated mask guidance, alleging that it was based on unpublished data and a study from India involving individuals who received a vaccine not approved in the U.S. India was where the Delta variant was first detected.
"If this was based on very credible evidence that we could look at and understand, then this would be a different scenario, but it's not," GOP Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan told reporters after the meeting. "Unpublished studies and and another from India have no bearing."
But according to the Associated Press, the CDC's decision was also based on sample data from several states. While some of the data is unpublished and unreleased, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said "it is concerning enough that we feel like we have to act," according to the Associated Press.
Roy and other GOP lawmakers also expressed their frustration with Monahan's decision to follow the CDC's guidance.
"The Capitol physician should not have been following unpublished reports from the CDC to make such an important decision, where the American people are seeing their people - people's representatives in the House - being told to wear masks, which seems to be wholly unnecessary in light of where we currently are," Roy told reporters.
In accordance with the updated CDC guidance, President Joe Biden and White House officials announced Tuesday that they will resume wearing masks indoors when traveling to areas of the U.S. with high Covid transmission rates. Biden also encouraged Americans to do the same.
"I hope all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it; I certainly will when I travel to these areas," Biden said in a statement following the updated guidance.
Biden is also expected to announce this week that his administration will require federal workers to be vaccinated, NBC News reported Wednesday, or they will be subject to strict testing measures.
The president said on Tuesday that the vaccine requirement was "under consideration."
The Biden administration had previously discouraged federal agencies from requiring a vaccine mandate for on-site work.
But the Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Monday that it would order its health-care workers to get vaccinated, becoming the first federal agency to do so.