About 100 House members have not taken the Covid vaccine, speaker Nancy Pelosi said in defence of Joe Biden’s sparsely populated address to the joint session of Congress.
Ms Pelosi was asked why the president wore a mask, and the Chamber was socially distanced, when public health officials are encouraging vaccinations to ease those pandemic restrictions.
Only 204 people were allowed to witness Mr Biden’s speech in person on Wednesday night compared to 1600 that usually attend.
Ms Pelosi said the numbers were at the direction of the US Capitol’s Office of Attending Physician because “about 75 per cent” of members have received the vaccination.
With 435 House members, that 25 per cent gap represents about 108 who have not received the vaccine, or have not reported it.
The protocols for Mr Biden’s speech had been criticized as excessive since most, three quarters, have received the vaccine.
“All of the requirements that we had [on Wednesday] are not about security… but in terms of Covid. Covid had us in a room where normally 1600 people would be gathered,” Ms Pelosi said.
“The Capitol physician insisted that social distancing, that mask-wearing were necessary.”
The 75 per cent ratio of House members unvaccinated has remained unchanged since Axios first reported on 14 March that the Capitol physician couldn’t make recommendations on “the modification or relaxation of existing social distancing guidelines” until it is clear on the total numbers.
It has lead to a delay in Congressional voting as members need to enter the Chamber in socially distanced waves to vote on legislation.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a letter to Ms Pelosi in March saying it’s time to end proxy voting and resume full-time, in-person committee hearings.
She said this week that could happen if everyone was vaccinated, “but we can’t require vaccinations for the members much less for the American people”.
While Ms Pelosi said she can’t ask the Capitol physician for the names of who is or isn’t vaccinated, she suggested that it’s Republicans and not her Democrat colleagues.
“Here’s the thing, we cannot require someone to be vaccinated. That’s just not what we can do. It is a matter of privacy to know who is or isn’t,” she said.
“Republicans come up to me and say, let’s shorten the time for votes, let’s shorten the time for votes, I said well, tell your friends to get vaccinated, that would help.”