(WASHINGTON) — Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, the second-most senior lawmaker in the House, told ABC News he has apologized to Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, after she said he refused to put on his mask Tuesday when she asked him to and, instead, poked her and told her to “kiss my ass.”
“This afternoon, I met with Congresswoman Beatty to personally apologize. My words were not acceptable and I expressed my regret to her, first and foremost,” Rogers said in a statement.
Beatty, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, tweeted a thread about their exchange Tuesday afternoon that got more than 10,000 likes and 5,000 retweets in less than an hour from its posting.
“Today, while heading to the House floor for votes, I respectfully asked my colleague @RepHalRogers to put on a mask while boarding the train. He then poked my back, demanding I get on the train. When I asked him not to touch me, he responded, ‘kiss my ass,"” the Ohio lawmaker tweeted.
“This is the kind of disrespect we have been fighting for years, and indicative of the larger issue we have with GOP Members flaunting health and safety mandates designed to keep us and our staff safe,” she wrote.
In a third and final tweet, Beatty tagged Rogers’ Twitter account and said, “when you are ready to grow up and apologize for your behavior, you know where to find me.”
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus held a press conference on the Capitol steps Tuesday evening to demand Rogers apologize for what they suggested was a physical and verbal “assault” on Beatty and described overall incivility in the halls of Congress.
“I will not give Hal Rogers a pass,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., who is running for Senate. “Look, we’re all dealing with the same thing, but his racist, inappropriate behavior against Joyce Beatty is totally unacceptable. And we will not tolerate it.”
Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., first vice chair of the caucus, added, “We are here in solidarity to call on that member to formally apologize to our chair and to understand the seriousness of his actions and the lack of decorum that he exhibited today.”
The apology from Rogers, a Republican, to Beatty, a Democrat, marks a rarity in today’s hyper-partisan Congress.
Republicans have rebelled against mask requirements at the Capitol since they were imposed last year with the change of congressional leadership amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with some publicly questioning the efficacy of masks despite public health experts recommending them.
In a directive issued last month amid looming fears of the omicron variant, the Office of the Attending Physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, said it was required that all members and staff wear “medical-grade” masks throughout the House, unless members are speaking in the halls of the House or someone is alone. There is no mask requirement for the Senate chamber or the halls of Congress.
While Rogers not wearing a mask did not break any Capitol rules, Democrats have for months blasted Republicans for flouting COVID-19 precautions and what they say is a lack of concern over the health and safety of their congressional colleagues, especially with many in a higher age bracket.
Several Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for refusing to wear masks on the House floor but have characterized the rebukes as badges of honor.
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend all Americans still wear masks in crowded indoor areas, such as on trains.
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