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House makes masks mandatory after scoffer Rep. Louie Gohmert gets coronavirus

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) studies notes during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the oversight of the Department of Justice on Tuesday.
(Matt McClain / Pool Photo)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Capitol officials issued broad new mask requirements Wednesday evening after a Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who had boasted about not wearing a face covering, tested positive for the coronavirus.

Pelosi announced that all members of Congress will be required to wear a mask when voting on the House floor and that one will be provided if anyone forgets. Gohmert was known to vote without one.

Several hours later, the House sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol’s top physician issued an order requiring masks inside House office buildings, with few exceptions. That mandate goes into effect 8 a.m. Thursday.

Pelosi said failure to wear a mask on the House floor is a “serious breach of decorum” for which members could be removed from the chamber. Members will be able to remove them while speaking, however. In the House office buildings, people can also remove them to eat, drink and give interviews, among a few other specific situations.

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“It’s a sign of respect for the health, safety and well-being of others present in the chamber and in surrounding areas,” Pelosi said.

Gohmert tested positive just before he was scheduled to travel to his home state of Texas with President Trump. He was forced to cancel his plans and was immediately criticized by colleagues for not always wearing a mask. “A selfish act,” one lawmaker said.

Mask-wearing in public has become an increasingly pressing and politicized issue as the economy reopens and cases surge across the nation.

The 66-year-old Gohmert, one of the House’s most conservative and outspoken members, told a Texas news station that he tested positive before boarding Air Force One and planned to self-quarantine. He is at least the 10th member of Congress known to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

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Gohmert’s positive test raised further questions about the lack of mask and testing requirements in the Capitol as members frequently fly back and forth from their hometowns and assemble for votes, hearings and news conferences.

Several GOP senators said they were pushing for more regular testing in the Capitol, as there is currently no testing program or requirements.

An eight-term lawmaker, Gohmert participated in the House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday where Atty. Gen. William Barr testified. Before the hearing, Gohmert was seen approaching the meeting room behind Barr, and neither man was wearing a mask.

The Capitol Hill beat is a tactile job that doesn’t lend itself to social distancing, masks — or babies that cry when Mom is on the phone.

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Gohmert also voted on the House floor Tuesday and attended a House Natural Resources Committee hearing, where a staff member sat close behind him on the dais as he talked without a mask. The chair of that committee, Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, said he would self-quarantine.

“In the meantime, my work schedule and the lives of my employees are disrupted,” Grijalva said. “This stems from a selfish act by Mr. Gohmert, who is just one member of Congress.”

When Gohmert flew to Washington on Sunday, he sat next to Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who also went into quarantine after learning of her colleague’s test results. A third lawmaker, Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, said he was advised to quarantine after having dinner with Gohmert on Monday.

Mask-wearing had been strongly encouraged but not enforced for lawmakers in the Capitol, while other workers and law enforcement officers were required to wear masks. Committees had rules requiring face coverings in hearing rooms, but until now, they hadn’t been required in hallways or personal offices.

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In a letter late Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) wrote to the House Office of Employee Assistance and, citing Gohmert’s positive test, asked if officials there had “sufficient resources to meet the greater demand for staff counseling created by these incidents.” He asked that the office take additional measures to publicize its services.


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