House reps spar over masks and social distancing, derailing committee meeting on immigration

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A HouseJudiciary Committee meeting Wednesday was derailed as members sparred over masks, vaccines and social distancing in the later stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans, including Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said that wearing masks even as most members of Congress have had the opportunity to get vaccinated sends the wrong message to Americans.

Democrats, meanwhile, said that members still need to observe health protocols in accordance with the recommendations of the attending physician and because not all members have been vaccinated.

The meeting is technically a markup of several bills, including one in response to the Trump travel ban and another creating a commission to study reparations. But it got off track early when Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., lodged his complaint that there aren't seats for all committee members on the dais.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., arrives for the House Judiciary Committee markup on the Justice in Policing Act in the Capitol Visitor Center on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. McClintock complained on Wednesday that all House Judiciary Committee members were not allowed at the dias during a meeting.  (By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Sipa USA/POOL)

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"I'm in my office rather than the committee room because once again the chair has failed to make room for all members on the dais. I again want to register my strong protest of this dereliction of basic responsibility and comity," he said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., interrupted McClintock as he began speaking on the legislation at hand to respond to his complaint.

"I just want to say in reply that the distancing, the social distancing, is pursuant to the advice of the attending physician because of the pandemic," he said.

"You might note among other things the CDC has just revised its social distancing to three feet rather than six," McClintock shot back. "I would also appreciate not being interrupted so I could get on with my statement."

Several minutes later Massie stepped up to a podium designed for members to speak from, members who are allowed in the committee room but have to sit along the back wall rather than on the dais. He attempted to submit for the record an ABC News article about the CDC saying fully vaccinated people can gather without masks. A member objected to that request.

"I believe I'm in order because you interrupted my colleague to talk about social distancing and masks and opened this session with a discussion about masks," Massie said. "We're sitting here in little chairs back here like children doing the peoples' business while there are empty seats up there. Yet we all flew here, if you flew here, on airplanes, shoulder-to-shoulder."

In this May 8. 2019 file photo, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., moves ahead with a vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. Nadler Wednesday sparred with GOP members of the committee over masks and the coronavirus. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In this May 8. 2019 file photo, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., moves ahead with a vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. Nadler Wednesday sparred with GOP members of the committee over masks and the coronavirus. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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Massie continued: "What is the message that we're trying to send the American people by wearing these stupid masks because all of Congress, by the way, cut line — now not everybody in here is vaccinated..."

Nadler then interrupted Massie and asked him if he was speaking on the amendment. Massie replied that he was before resuming.

"I am asking why we have to wear a mask when the CDC says it's not necessary," Massie said.

"Because everybody in this room is not vaccinated, as you well know," Nadler retorted.

Massie continued to say that "everybody in the room has had the vaccine or has developed immunity through an infection. These are ridiculous theater and here's why it's important. Because people will not get vaccinated if they believe you have to wear the mask even after you're vaccinated... People got on the news and got their shots to show that they are vaccinated. Now we are in this committee projecting the image that you're going to have to wear this mask forever."

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., stops to speak with reporters as he leaves the Capitol after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was passed in the House on Friday, March 27, 2020. Massie questioned why members of Congress are still required to wear masks and social distance on Wednesday even though they've had the opportunity to get vaccines. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., stops to speak with reporters as he leaves the Capitol after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was passed in the House on Friday, March 27, 2020. Massie questioned why members of Congress are still required to wear masks and social distance on Wednesday even though they've had the opportunity to get vaccines. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

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Once Massie ceded, the floor discussion returned to the legislation at hand. But multiple members later returned to Massie's comments either to rebut or support them.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas., held up a photo of a young migrant girl wearing a mask and argued that mask-wearing by young migrant children could harm their mental health.

"We're talking about children, we're talking about mental health, we're talking about our kids. We're all sitting here sitting spaced out with this nonsense with masks. And it is 100% nonsense. This is all for show," he said.

Roy also recounted attending a PGA Tour event where he was speaking with friends without a mask, but a staffer walked up to him and reminded him to wear it.

"The cameras can see you," the staffer said, according to Roy.

"Because the PGA Tour doesn't want to deal with any of the outcry from the left that 'Oh my gosh that they catch one of their spectators out on the side of a golf course, in 80-degree Austin, outdoors,'" Roy said in a mocking voice, "'Oh no, they might see somebody, they're not wearing a mask.'"

Rep. Hank Johnson, R-Ga., then proceeded to blast Roy for "righteous indignation" and "still propagating the failed notion that COVID-19 is a fraud, it's fake news."

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"It's ridiculous that we are entertaining these views after 565,000 Americans have been killed by this COVID-19 virus which was ignored by the Trump administration," Johnson added.

Even as more Americans get vaccinated, there are still tens of thousands of more coronavirus cases reported in the United States every day.

Institutions around the country are struggling with when and how to reopen, especially among regularly shifting guidelines and new knowledge being gained about the virus. Congress has generally moved to allow more freedom for staffers and members to work in person, and Senate Democrats had their first in-person policy meeting this week since the pandemic started.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., instituted a $500 fine for members not wearing masks on the House floor.

Tyler Olson Fox News