Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) presided over a chaotic swearing-in ceremony Sunday that did not follow the recommended guidelines for curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
Attendees of the freshman swearing-in ceremony appeared to abandon all social distancing requirements and frequently spoke in close quarters without masks, according to journalists present for the event and footage of the swearing-in posted to social media.
Pelosi is already under scrutiny for demanding that Democrats return to Washington, D.C., to cast their ballot to re-elect her as Speaker despite coronavirus-related lockdowns still in effect across the country and a rising infection rate. Democrats had previously approved a “proxy voting” scheme to allow Members to work from home, but only in-person votes count in the leadership election.
As the Daily Wire reported earlier on Monday, Pelosi is also facing questions as to why she allowed a Member of Congress who recently tested positive for COVID-19 to vote in person this weekend, and over her decision to have a plexiglass partition erected overnight so that Democrats who may have been exposed to the virus could still vote. Republicans say they were not notified about either the partition or the possibility that Members who had been exposed to the coronavirus would be allowed to attend the vote.
The swearing-in ceremony adds a new element of concern, particularly given that, in her remarks, Pelosi stressed that Congress would be primarily concerned with the “unprecedented national crisis,” COVID-19. She said later that the new class’s “most urgent priority will continue to be defeating the coronavirus.”
Video of the event from C-SPAN “shows hundreds of lawmakers wandering around the chamber speaking with each other in close contact and shaking hands,” Fox News reports.
C-SPAN’s Craig Caplan posted the video to social media, clearly alarmed at how Members of Congress were flouting COVID-19 precautions.
Mass swearing-in for most House members into 117th Congress instead of all in smaller groups as previously announced for COVID-19 safety floor guidelines. pic.twitter.com/e73g16x2UT
— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) January 3, 2021
A New York Times reporter expressed clear dismay at the lack of social distancing.
and now that the masses have been sworn in, there is a bottleneck of people racing to leave. barely an attempt to distance. Barely.
— Emily Cochrane (@ESCochrane) January 3, 2021
“And live from the House floor, it’s utter chaos,” she wrote. “Way too many people. No social distancing. Masks being removed to speak. Yelling, Shushing. Phones ringing.”
“And now that the masses have been sworn in,” she continued, “there is a bottleneck of people racing to leave. Barely an attempt to distance. Barely.”
Washington, D.C., is currently in “phase two” of its coronavirus mitigation plan, which allows most businesses and public locations to be open with strict occupancy limitations. Because of a rise in positive coronavirus tests, indoor dining and other indoor activities where individuals are not able to adequately social distance are largely suspended. Nonessential businesses are limited to 25% capacity or 250 people, whichever is fewer, according to the city’s tourism website, but most museums, government buildings, and major landmarks remain completely closed.
Pelosi tried to rectify the clear disregard for coronavirus restrictions in a statement released to her colleagues on Monday.
“As Members of Congress, we are considered essential workers. We must take our responsibility seriously,” Pelosi said in the note. She added that Members are required to “wear masks at all times,” to “respect social distancing” and that she and others will make an effort to “limit the number of Members on the floor” at any given time.
Related: Republican Slams ‘Dark Of Night’ Construction Of Plexiglass Structure To Allow COVID-Exposed Dems To Vote For Pelosi