It's come to this: Capitol Police told to arrest House staffers who aren't wearing masks

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

A logical end to our mask culture war. Democrats are ready to charge people criminally for not taking a marginal extra precaution at a moment when half the country (and their entire caucus) is already vaccinated. And Republicans are ready to turn new guidance from the CDC about a hyper-contagious variant into a midterm rallying cry because it asks people to wear a small piece of fabric on their face.

Authoritarianism versus freedom … over whether to don a mouth diaper in certain circumstances or not.

Tempers were already hot even before the new police bulletin was issued:

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) was taken aback when he was about to board an elevator Wednesday with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), whom he had seen on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” two days ago explaining why he wasn’t vaccinated.

“It’s ridiculous that you’re unvaccinated, unmasked and you’re getting into an elevator with other people,” Huffman told Donalds, before opting to board another elevator…

“You’re just incredibly selfish,” Huffman told Donalds.

“What are you doing? Mind your business. Leave me alone,” Donalds responded.

They got hotter this morning when the Capitol Police sent out its official warning to all personnel, which Rep. Kat Cammack posted to her Twitter feed a few hours ago. People have lost their minds:

House members won’t be arrested for refusing to mask but they might be disciplined. Their own staffers (and visitors) face actual arrest, though, for lingering on the premises if they refuse to mask up after being told to do so. Regardless of whether they’re vaccinated.

Thomas Massie calls it “insane” and blames the chief of the Capitol Police for overzealousness in enforcing the new mask mandate ordered by the Capitol physician. Pelosi’s office is insisting that she has nothing to do with it: “The Speaker of the House does not control the U.S. Capitol Police,” one of her spokesmen said to Politico. “We were unaware of the [mask-related] memo until it was reported in the press.” It’s hard to believe that a request from the Speaker wouldn’t get the USCP to revisit their protocol, though.

Maybe she doesn’t want to make that request because she thinks Congress has a duty to model the new CDC masking guidance. If they let staff flout the new mandate with impunity, they’ll be accused of undermining the CDC and/or of setting a lower bar for their own employees than they expect the American hoi polloi to follow. Or maybe she doesn’t want to make the request because she’s a mask fanatic and enjoys the thought of GOP aides being hauled off for refusing to mask up.

Whatever Pelosi’s role in this is or isn’t, she’ll be blamed by Republicans who know a political opportunity when they see one:

Mace told her staff to work from home today so that they don’t end up getting arrested. (Were any of them refusing to mask up in defiance of the new mandate?) House Republicans met with the Capitol physician yesterday and asked him if he’d come under any political pressure from Democrats to issue the mandate, and he swore that he hadn’t. Rather, he said, he ordered it because there are people from hot spots across America entering the building every day, including House members. If the CDC says that vaccinated people in high-infection areas need to mask up to protect, uh, someone (the vaccine refuseniks, I guess) and if the Capitol is a de facto high-infection area then people on the premises should have to wear masks.

McCarthy went to the House floor last night and inveighed against the new guidance, not just for Congress but for the country:

If you read this post yesterday then you know that he misstated the science there. The CDC’s concerns about vaccinated people spreading the virus are based on more than a single non-peer-reviewed study from India involving unapproved vaccines — although, as I write this, it’s still not clear what else they were based on. Democrat Tim Ryan, sensing his own political opportunity, raced to the floor to call McCarthy out for objecting to the new House mandate. Ryan’s running for Senate in Ohio next year and these histrionic little floor speeches he gives from time to time are doubtless useful to his fundraising and name recognition:

We’ll see if the Capitol Police end up undoing the new guidance today as it comes under scrutiny from righties, possibly with pressure from Pelosi. She’s normally not one to bow when under attack from the GOP but she must realize at this point that being known as the party of endless COVID restrictions isn’t a good brand for Democrats in the midterms. Here’s McCarthy needling her yesterday.