SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — For a second consecutive day, a small handful of House Republicans refused to comply with House Rules and wear a face mask in the chamber. The Speaker sidestepped a dare to kick them off the floor, and instead adjourned to allow members to debate bills in virtual committee meetings.
“It’s disappointing that instead of actually doing the people’s work, the Republicans would rather use the House chamber as a stage for political theatre,” House Speaker Chris Welch’s spokeswoman Jaclyn Driscoll said in an emailed statement. “With deadlines approaching, Democrats decided to move to committee work so we can do the jobs we were elected to do.”
Most of this week’s action in the legislature has taken place at the committee level, so the stunts have so far gone on with little evidence of blowback or consequence. However, on Thursday, the House is scheduled to conduct actual business from the floor. At least three of the House Republicans who refused to wear a mask confirmed they will not wear one when they show up to work on Thursday.
Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) said the mask rules were being “arbitrarily enforced” to “single out members” on the House floor. He urged the Speaker to suspend the mask rules. When Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago) declared Caulkins’ motion was out of order, Caulkins pivoted and asked the Speaker to remove all members from the chamber because they didn’t submit to temperature screenings before they walked into the floor, which is another requirement in the House Rules that the chamber had stopped enforcing.
Instead, Harris sent the Sergeant-at-Arms around to conduct temperature screenings of all members in their seats. Guards resumed conducting temperature screenings for anyone who entered the House chamber throughout the remainder of the day.
The breach in protocols concerned some House members who fear exposure to their unvaccinated colleagues could result in them carrying COVID-19 home to their own family members who have serious health concerns. Rep. Lakesia Collins (D-Chicago) said her eight-year-old son suffers with asthma.
“I’ve been protecting him throughout this pandemic, washing my hands, taking all the safety precautions, wearing my mask, making sure that he wears his mask,” she said. “He makes sure that we all wash our hands and things, too. He’s eight years old, right? He knows what he’s dealing with. Even going to school, he knows [to] keep on my mask, take it off only when it’s time to eat or drink something. And so we’re all adults here. So to refuse to follow the House rules on wearing a mask, it’s unacceptable.”
Collins filed a motion to kick Reps. Caulkins, Blaine Wilhour (R-Beecher City), Chris Miller (R-Oakland), Andrew Chesney (R-Freeport), Brad Halbrook (Shelbyville), Adam Niemerg (R-Teutopolis), and Marty McLaughlin (R-Barrington Hills) off the floor of the House chamber Wednesday afternoon.
“You’re putting us all at risk,” Collins said. “At the end of the day, if you choose not to get vaccinated, that’s your choice. If you choose not to wear a mask when we leave up out of here, that’s your choice. But when you’re here in the chamber and we’re close to each other, you need to respect other peoples’ wishes and be respectful of the House rules.”
After Collins filed her motion, Republicans left the floor and huddled privately in a closed-door caucus meeting for more than an hour. By the time they returned to the chamber, House committees were almost scheduled to begin, so the Speaker adjourned again after Collins withdrew her motion. She said she will file it again and insist on their removal on Thursday if they refuse to wear a mask for a third straight day.