Zelensky to make virtual address to joint session of Congress – members required to wear masks

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Federal lawmakers who wish to be in the room on Capitol Hill for a virtual speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reportedly must mask up if they aren’t fully COVID-19 vaccinated.

Zelenskyy is scheduled to deliver remarks via videolink from his war-torn country, presumably from Kyiv, at a joint session of Congress on Wednesday at 9 a.m. Eastern time. Only Members of Congress can listen to the speech, which is presumably set to be in the House chamber.

Facial coverings were ultimately deemed optional for President Joe Biden’s in-person State of the Union address on March 1, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., originally required them. To attend Biden’s speech, a negative COVID test was required. 

In the run-up to Biden’s speech, the U.S. Capitol’s attending physician, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, announced the new protocol based on a low positive-testing rate around the same time that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its own face mask guidance, the latter which some skeptics described as “interesting” timing that may have been related to SOTU optics.

In a letter to their colleagues, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote, “The Congress remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face Putin’s cruel and diabolical aggression, and to passing legislation to cripple and isolate the Russian economy as well as deliver humanitarian, security and economic assistance to Ukraine.”

“We look forward to the privilege of welcoming President Zelenskyy’s address to the House and Senate and to convey our support to the people of Ukraine as they bravely defend democracy,” the letter added.

“The Congress, our country and the world are in awe of the people of Ukraine,” the two leaders also asserted.

Zelenskyy’s speech is also expected to be streamed live by various news outlets.

“Pelosi controls masking rules on the House floor, but she has largely deferred to Monahan’s recommendations. The Senate never adopted mask mandates, citing high vaccination rates, though individual offices set their own policies,” Politico reported in late February.

Congress has already approved about $14 billion in humanitarian, economic, and military aid for Ukraine in response to the invasion by the Russian Federation.

In his speech, Zelenskyy may, among other things, renew his call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine enforced by the West.

The U.S., as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has rejected this appeal because it might ignite World War 3, although it is being advocated by some neocons and neolibs, a cohort that seems far less concerned with America’s territorial integrity when it comes to the U.S. southern border.

“The administration and lawmakers are largely opposed to [a no-fly zone] because of concerns it would lead to direct conflict between the United States and Russia and spiral into a larger war. Zelensky is also asking for more planes and other military equipment as Ukraine tries to fight off a much larger Russian army,” The Hill noted.

On March 5, Zelenskyy got on a Zoom call with about 300 members of Congress and their staffs to discuss matters related to the invasion, including requesting more warplanes and to recommend a U.S. ban on Russian oil imports, which Biden subsequently went along with. The Biden administration has imposed additional economic sanctions, and more may be on the horizon.

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) prompted controversy at the time by sharing online screenshots of the call while it was in progress in apparent violation of a security request by Zelenskyy’s team. Both politicians denied that they put the president at risk in any way.

Peace talks have reportedly resumed on Monday between Russia and Ukraine.

Having previously addressed the British and European parliaments, Zelenskyy is scheduled to speak remotely to Canada’s parliament on Tuesday.


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