When the 118th Congress convenes on Jan. 3, and members are sworn in, Vice President Kamala Harris is requiring senators, their spouses, and guests older than 2 to provide a negative coronavirus test before participating in a photo op.
Grisella Martinez, who is Harris’ director of legislative affairs, wrote the vice president’s requirements to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, who distributed the message to Senate offices last week.
“We look forward to welcoming your Senator on January 3, 2023, to the ceremonial reenactment for incoming and newly re-elected Senators in the Old Senate Chamber,” Martinez wrote.
“As you are aware, White House COVID-19 protocols require that anyone over two years of age who will interact with the Vice President take a medically-administered antigen test within 24 hours prior to interaction, and receive a negative result. This policy applies regardless of vaccination status.”
Martinez said that people who want to attend the ceremony must undergo testing the morning of Jan. 3 in a Senate office building or submit results of a medically administered test to a White House email address by 9 a.m. on the same day.
On Dec. 29, the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Protocol Office released a statement that explained, “The Vice President’s office has requested that we send their standard COVID-19 protocol information to offices participating in the reenactment opportunity in the Old Senate Chamber. Please see their suggested process below.”
Family members and close friends of senators typically attend the swearing-in ceremonies.
Harris also serves as president of the Senate. At noon on Jan. 3, on the Senate floor, she will administer the oath of office to the senators who won their respective races in last November’s midterms.
New and returning senators take the oath from Harris in small groups. They also have the opportunity to repeat the ceremony one on one and get a photograph with the vice president. Spouses, children, and even grandchildren are usually included in the photo.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) expressed his displeasure with the policy, tweeting, “This is nuts. About the only thing the VP does (esp in a 51-49 Senate) is swear in new senators. And, with out-of-touch contempt, Kamala is insisting they all get tested before she’s willing to do her job. Nope.”