WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Capitol officials issued broad new mask requirements Wednesday after a Republican member of Congress tested positive for the coronavirus. The member, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, often shunned wearing masks and was known to vote without one.
Pelosi announced Wednesday evening that all members will be required to wear a mask when voting on the House floor and that one will be provided if anyone forgets. 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 at 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 temporarily remove them while speaking, however. In the House office buildings, people can remove them to eat, drink and give interviews, among a few other specific situations.
“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 with President Donald 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.
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.
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 gather 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.
“I think particularly for members of Congress who are going back-and-forth, they represent sort of the perfect petri dish for how you spread a disease,” said GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, chair of the Senate Rules Committee. “You send 535 people out to 535 different locations, on about 1,000 different airplanes, and bring them back and see what happens.”
An eight-term lawmaker, Gohmert participated in the House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday where Attorney General William Barr testified. Before the hearing, Gohmert was seen approaching the meeting room behind Barr, and neither man was wearing a mask.