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Maskless photos overshadow McSally’s Senate farewell speech

Outgoing senator and staffers gathered under the Battle of Lake Erie painting

Martha McSally’s farewell to the Senate Wednesday was quickly overshadowed by the gathering of her staff outside the Senate chamber for group and individual photos — mostly maskless and not socially distanced.

The appointed Arizona Republican senator, who lost her race against Democrat Mark Kelly, delivered farewell remarks on the Senate floor before the chamber’s final pre-Thanksgiving vote.

In addition to highlighting legislative achievements like the sweeping public lands package that President Donald Trump signed into law earlier this year and protecting the A-10 Warthog, McSally spoke about her staff and the staff members of other Senate offices that make the clocks tick.

“This institution could not operate, and the people of all 50 states would not be served, without intelligent, hard-charging, often young, men and women who choose to work on the Hill in staff positions,” McSally said on the Senate floor.

“They don’t do it for the money, and they could make much more working fewer hours in other fields,” she said. “They choose these behind-the-scenes, un-glamourous jobs, to be a part of keeping our constitutional republic strong.”

After the speech, she gathered for photos on the stairway in front of William Henry Powell’s painting of the Battle of Lake Erie, and there was a notable lack of masks in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In one photo shared by a CNN producer on the scene, almost two dozen people including McSally could be seen gathered on the stairs. There were individual largely maskless photos as well, until staff for the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms intervened to remind them of pandemic protocols.

McSally reportedly declined comment as she departed after the photographs, but more Arizonans were reported to have died from COVID-19 in a Wednesday update from the state Department of Health (53), than Americans died in the actual Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 (27).

Because McSally was appointed to fill an unexpired term, she is not expected to return to the Senate for the portion of the lame-duck session that will take place after Thanksgiving. Kelly, the senator-elect, will be sworn in shortly after the Senate returns.

Kelly is scheduled to hold a virtual briefing on COVID-19 with members of his transition team and Arizona leaders including public health officials Thursday as he gets ready to join the Senate.

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Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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