Pandemic, election dispute color swearing-in for Georgia’s incoming U.S. House members

U.S. House staff stopped Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene today when she tried walking on the the chamber's floor without a face covering. Greene, who is set to be sworn into office later today as a U.S. representative, returned to the floor later wearing a mask that said “Trump Won.” Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
U.S. House staff stopped Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene today when she tried walking on the the chamber's floor without a face covering. Greene, who is set to be sworn into office later today as a U.S. representative, returned to the floor later wearing a mask that said “Trump Won.” Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

WASHINGTON — The first day of Congress is usually full of pomp and circumstance, with families gathered in the viewing galleries to see new members sworn in.

This year, which brings four new U.S. House members from Georgia, was a much different experience. And Georgians don’t even know who the state’s two U.S. senators will be.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, mask rules and social-distancing requirements were implemented, although compliance varied. Republican-led efforts to overturn the outcome of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential win turned normally routine and ceremonial votes into another avenue for partisanship.

Freshman U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux, Andrew Clyde, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Nikema Williams could invite only one guest each to watch them take the oath of office Monday.

House leaders urged all new members not to host parties or receptions to celebrate the occasion. And there was no ceremonial reenactment with the new members posing with their families and the House speaker.

The mask mandate was a source of drama involving Greene, a Republican from Rome. She was stopped by House staff after she tried walking onto the chamber’s floor without a face covering. Reporters noted on social media that Greene initially would not comply with the rules, but her staff says the incident was overblown.

She could not be reached for comment, and when Greene returned to the floor later she wore a mask emblazoned with the slogan “Trump Won.” She often pulled the mask down below her nose and mouth as she chatted with other members.

Williams wore a mask with the words “Good Trouble” on them, a nod to the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, whose seat she now fills.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue is out of office for the time being, pending the outcome of Tuesday’s runoff election. His term ended Sunday, and his seat will remain vacant until the winner of the election is certified.

Because his counterpart, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, was appointed to fill U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat when he retired, she won’t have to step down unless her opponent wins the runoff and is sworn in as her replacement.

The COVID-influenced swearing-in will not be the only unusual proceeding during the first week of the 117th session of Congress.

Members are preparing for what is expected to be a highly partisan vote Wednesday to tally the Electoral College results. Dozens of Republicans, including Greene and two others from Georgia — U.S. Reps. Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk — said they will challenge Biden’s win in certain states.

Although these actions are unlikely to overturn the results and prevent Biden from being inaugurated later this month, they will draw out the process and amplify unsubstantiated claims of fraud and abuse during the general election.

Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy forced a vote Sunday meant to challenge his GOP colleagues who question the veracity of election results in Georgia and five other states. If Biden’s win in those states was due to fraud or abuse, then the House members who won on those same ballots should also face scrutiny, Roy said.

His motion, if successful, would have prevented House members from Georgia and the other states from taking the oath of office.

“It would confound reason if the presidential results of these states were to face objection while the congressional results of the same process escaped public scrutiny,” Roy said.

Only two GOP members, neither from Georgia, voted against seating the members from these contested states. All eight Georgia Republicans, including Greene, Hice and Loudermilk, voted with the majority.

Bourdeaux was among the Democrats who criticized the GOP-led effort to overturn the outcome of the presidential election. The Suwanee resident said she hoped that after Biden’s win is confirmed on Wednesday that Democrats and Republicans will start working together again.

“I hope we can get past the turmoil of this election,” she said.

Clyde, a Republican from Athens, said he is already looking forward to getting to work. In an interview on C-SPAN, he spoke about his request to be assigned to the Armed Services Committee.

“We have a very long and proud tradition of military service,” said Clyde, a veteran. “I believe in protecting and defending our country, and military service is part of that.”

The start of the new session of Congress marks the end of the road for outgoing Georgia U.S. Reps. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville; and Kwanza Hall, D-Atlanta. (U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, left several weeks before the end of his term.)

Hall served about a month, fulfilling the remainder of Lewis’ term after his death last summer. Despite his brief tenure, Hall took part in votes on a sweeping defense policy bill and later an override when it was vetoed by Trump. He also voted in favor of the latest round of coronavirus relief.

“It was a lame-duck session that was anything but lame,” he said. The former congressman said he hasn’t decided his next steps or whether he will run for office again.

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