According to a memo distributed during the Thursday morning roll call in the House of Representatives, Capitol Police officers are ordered to arrest visitors and House staff who refuse to comply with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) new mask mandate. A copy of the memo issued by U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger was obtained by Florida Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL), who posted images of it on Twitter, commenting:
“In today’s edition of Pelosi’s abuse of power, Capitol Police have been directed to arrest staff and visitors to comply with her mask mandate for vaccinated individuals.
For Members, they advise not arresting but ‘reporting Members to [the House sergeant-at-arms] for their failure to comply.’”
Appearing on Fox News, Cammack remarked, “It’s absolutely unconscionable that this is where we’re at.” GOP members are appalled that the speaker has apparently ordered the Capitol Police to take such action, though Pelosi’s office denies this is the case. “The speaker of the house does not control the U.S. Capitol Police,” Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesperson, told Fox News. “We were unaware of the memo until it was reported in the press.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) was having none of it. “To be clear,” he remarked in a retweet of Cammack’s post, “Pelosi is directing police to ARREST vaccinated people who aren’t wearing masks. This isn’t about science – it’s about power and control.”
On Who’s Orders?
The chain of legal authority appears unclear, but it seems that unless USCP Chief Thomas Manger has taken it upon himself to arrest members of House staff and visitors, the directive could only have come from the House sergeant-at-arms or the speaker.
If indeed Pelosi directed Manger to issue this memo, then Congress appears to be in uncharted and dangerous waters. It would mean that a House speaker has ordered a law enforcement agency to arrest people for not obeying a decree that, in reality, has no legal standing. While the House of Representatives gets to write its own rules, the speaker has no authority to unilaterally impose standards of conduct in the House and the mask mandate has no legislative standing – meaning it is not a law – and those who choose to disregard it have committed no criminal act. The USCP order does not apply to the Senate side of the Capitol building, since no new mask mandate has been imposed in the upper chamber.
“I cannot comply with this tyrannical order,” Cammack told Fox News. “This is the people’s house, not Nancy Pelosi’s house.”
On July 23, the GOP’s House Freedom Caucus urged Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to introduce a privileged motion to vacate the speaker’s chair. In a letter to McCarthy, members of the caucus referred to “Nancy Pelosi’s authoritarian reign as Speaker of the House.” In response to the California Democrat’s recent decision to reject Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN) from the select committee formed to investigate the events of Jan. 6 on Capitol Hill, the letter cited “[T]he leadership of one party dictating the ability of Members of another party to serve in roles at the discretion of their own conference.”
As things stand, and regardless of one’s political views, the growing dysfunction and partisan animosity on Capitol Hill seems ever more likely to eventually undermine the ability of the federal government to legislate constructively – much less achieve anything positive for the American people.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.