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Pelosi asks House chairs to enforce mandatory mask-wearing during hearings

Pelosi asks House chairs to enforce mandatory mask-wearing during hearings
© Bonnie Cash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Health Care: CDC expands definition of 'close contact' after COVID-19 report | GOP coronavirus bill blocked in Senate | OxyContin maker agrees to B settlement with Trump administration MORE (D-Calif.) is asking chairs of House committees to require members on their panels to wear masks during proceedings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pelosi is asking the chairs to “enforce rules of decorum and exclude members who fail to comply," a senior Democratic aide familiar with the matter told The Hill late Tuesday.

Updated guidance from Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, cited broad consensus regarding the effectiveness of wearing masks to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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The guidance issued Tuesday, which was requested by Pelosi, states that face coverings are required for House meetings "in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes."

"This requirement will be enforced by the Sergeant at Arms and noncompliant members will be denied entry," the senior Democratic aide said Tuesday night.

The aide noted that "members always have the option to participate in committee proceedings virtually, including from their Washington, D.C., offices or their districts."

Pelosi had said Monday that she was looking into making facial coverings a requirement for lawmakers at hearings during the pandemic.

The move comes as members of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday are set to mark up Democrats' sweeping police reform proposal.

Besides masks, the Office of Attending Physician (OAP) has also recommended lawmakers continue to commit to social distancing in their offices, provide options for telework, screen visitors to their office and use hand sanitizer.

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Existing rules regarding committee hearings state that "the chair may punish breaches of order and decorum" by censure and exclusion from hearings.

The OAP has also issued direction encouraging lawmakers and other attendees at committee hearings and on the House floor to wear facial coverings as a way to reduce potential spread of the coronavirus, though it has now made face coverings a requirement for hearings.

Most lawmakers have already been observing advice from health officials to wear masks and socially distance, though some conservative Republicans have bucked the officials and refused to wear face coverings.

Other safety measures the House has implemented during the coronavirus pandemic include limiting the number of lawmakers in the chamber at a time, allowing proxy voting and holding voting in time slots by alphabetical order. 

The guidance comes a day after Rep. Tom RiceHugh (Tom) Thompson RiceMichigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 Democratic Rep. Carbajal tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-S.C.) announced that he and his family had tested positive for the coronavirus. Six other members of Congress have also tested positive for the coronavirus and since recovered.