Vaccine brawl riles House

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.