Several of them refused to wear masks, even as a potentially deadly airborne virus was ravaging the nation.
Another, Rep. Brad Schneider, said in a statement that he is “now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff.”
And Rep. Pramila Jayapal told New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister last week that she feared she had been exposed in “a superspreader event” because, when members of Congress were brought to a secured room during the attack, “there were over 100 people and many were Republicans not wearing masks.”
In an interview with McClatchy news service Friday, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that the US Capitol riot, broadly speaking, was likely a coronavirus “surge event” and “is going to have public health consequences.”
In a statement after she tested positive for the virus, Jayapal said: “Only hours after President Trump incited a deadly assault on our Capitol, our country, and our democracy, many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum Covid-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic — creating a superspreader event on top of a domestic terrorist attack.”
She called for “serious fines to be immediately levied on every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol” and for “any Member who refuses to wear a mask [to] be immediately removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”
House Democrats are now pushing for a rule that would fine any member $500 the first time they don’t wear a mask on the House floor, and $2,500 for any subsequent offense.
That’s the absolute minimum that should happen.
Why anyone would knowingly put other peoples’ lives at risk when all that’s being asked is that they wear a piece of cloth over the mouth and nose? It’s such a small request, and the stakes are so high. How are we to wrap our minds around the depths of selfishness and casual malice, the utter lack of care and moral compass that is required to potentially and unnecessarily expose cancer survivors — or anyone — to a virus that has killed some 380,000 Americans? The coronavirus continues to set record death tolls; it claimed more than 4,000 American lives on Tuesday alone.
It’s not like those maskless Republicans didn’t have other options. There were masks on hand, and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester tried to distribute them to her colleagues. Several refused, and at the very least, they deserve to be named and shamed as the villains they are: The reported list so far includes Reps. Markwayne Mullin (Oklahoma), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), Andy Biggs (Arizona), Michael Cloud (Texas), Doug LaMalfa (California) and Scott Perry (Pennsylvania).
(Greene’s office told CNN, “Congresswoman Greene is a healthy adult who tested negative for COVID at the White House just this week. She does not believe healthy Americans should be forced to muzzle themselves with a mask. America needs to reopen and get back to normal.” The others did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.)
Would universal mask-wearing have definitely prevented the virus from spreading among members of Congress all trapped together in a small room? Not necessarily — we know that being indoors without ventilation for extended periods can create the conditions to spread Covid-19, even if masks are worn. But we also know that wearing masks significantly reduces the risk of infection.
And while we can’t be certain exactly where the infected lawmakers contracted Covid, we do know that some of their colleagues didn’t care either way. (The CDC says that most coronavirus infections are spread by people who have no symptoms.)
When Republican politicians refuse to mask up, they send a devastatingly dangerous message to the American public. Throughout this pandemic some GOP governors have refused to impose the kind of shutdowns necessary to contain the virus. They and others Republicans have politicized mask-wearing and further basic public health measures — and they have stood by this President as he failed to handle this deadly crisis.
Had the President and his party stepped up, many lives might have been saved.
Republicans, members of the so-called “party of personal responsibility,” want to shirk theirs. Indeed, since the sacking of the Capitol they are calling for “unity,” and demanding Democrats forgive and forget.
But it was the words of so many in their party, and the lies of its leader, that fueled this insurrection to begin with. And it was the feckless, willfully dangerous actions of mask-eschewing Republicans in Congress that put the health of their own colleagues at risk, even as they hid together from a rampaging mob of terrorists. These “leaders” are a model of selfish irresponsibility for the entire nation.
We don’t know how many more members of Congress will test positive for Covid-19, just as it’s impossible to tally the number of Americans who would have avoided illness or death had all Republican leaders encouraged public health best practices.
We do already know that the FBI is investigating information that pro-Trump forces are planning “armed protests” on state capitols and Washington, DC. and that many of them are talking about bringing guns.
If we ever want to recover from these twin disasters — a pandemic and an insurrection — we need to understand what and who fueled them, hold wrongdoers accountable, and learn from all of these bad acts. Right now, many conservatives are asking for reconciliation. But it’s impossible to have reconciliation without truth and accountability.
Those who put lives at risk, whether they flouted simple public health guidelines or spread inflammatory rhetoric and outright lies about the American democratic system, must own up to what they’ve done, and must face consequences commensurate with their actions. Maybe that means being fined, per Jayapal’s demand. Maybe it means they should be removed from office. For a range of bad acts there should be a range of serious ramifications.
Right now, at least three members of Congress are sick with a potentially deadly disease that they might well have acquired while sheltering from a domestic terror attack committed by rioters who made clear they were doing the bidding of a President trying to steal an election.
We are as vulnerable as we’ve ever been. If we eventually want to get to a place of safety, reconciliation, and unity, then we need to demand adherence to reality and telling of the truth — and the Party of No Responsibility needs to finally understand that actions have consequences.