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House GOP lawmakers defy new mask requirement

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE’s (D-Calif.) directive that House committee leaders enforce a new mask requirement quickly encountered some GOP resistance on Wednesday, with several Republicans participating in legislative markups without facial coverings.

Guidance from the Capitol physician issued late Tuesday, which was requested by Pelosi, said masks are now required for any House meetings “in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes.” A senior Democratic aide said Tuesday that Pelosi had asked committee chairs to “enforce rules of decorum and exclude members who fail to comply.”

The requirement came in response to numerous House Republicans who have dismissed previous guidance from the Capitol physician encouraging the use of facial coverings in recent weeks. While most lawmakers in both parties have been wearing masks in public, the handful who haven't are all conservative Republicans.

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Compliance with the new requirement was spotty on Wednesday during separate markups of legislation by the House Judiciary and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.

“Wearing a mask not only helps protect you from getting sick from this deadly virus, it helps protect the other people in this room from getting sick," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMarijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE (D-N.Y.). “In light of the attending physician's new guidance, I therefore fully expect all members on both sides of the aisle to wear a mask at all times that you are not speaking. If for whatever reason you are not willing to wear a mask, the House rules provide a way to participate remotely from your office without being physically present in this room."

Yet GOP lawmakers ignoring the mask rule largely didn’t face pushback aside from verbal reminders.

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanSunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day McCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments McCarthy: 'I would think I already have the votes' to remain as House GOP leader MORE (Ohio), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has been among the GOP lawmakers seen without a mask on Capitol Hill in recent weeks. He initially wore a mask at the start of Wednesday's Judiciary Committee markup of police reform legislation but later removed it.

About two hours later, Nadler briefly admonished Jordan and Rep. Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockHouse votes to condemn alleged hysterectomies on migrant women House to vote on removing cannabis from list of controlled substances House votes to remove Confederate statues from Capitol MORE (R-Calif.) for not wearing masks.

“I would remind the gentleman, and other gentlemen, that for the safety of their colleagues and the decorum of the House, they should be wearing masks. Mr. Jordan,” Nadler said, turning to look directly at Jordan.

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But Nadler did not linger on the issue and quickly moved on to allow Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinCongress must repeal tax breaks for the wealthy passed in CARES Act COVID-19 and the problem of presidential succession Warren, Porter to headline progressive fundraiser supporting seven swing state candidates MORE (D-Md.) to speak. Several hours later, however, Nadler announced that he would not grant speaking time to any lawmaker not wearing a mask.

He then initially ignored a request from McClintock – who was still not wearing a mask – for speaking time, but ultimately relented.

"I consider masks much more effective at spreading panic and much less effective at stopping a virus," McClintock said. 

In the end, McClintock put on a mask and secured recognition from Nadler to speak again about 30 minutes later. 

Members of both the Judiciary and Transportation committees had the option of either participating in person on Capitol Hill – with physical distancing measures in place to keep people at least six feet apart – or remotely via videoconference.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioDemocrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Trump says talks on COVID-19 aid are now 'working out' Trump gambles with new stimulus strategy MORE (D-Ore.) led a markup of nearly $500 billion in surface transportation projects remotely from his office, while Republicans largely participated in person in the committee’s cavernous hearing room on Capitol Hill.

Several GOP members were seen not wearing masks, including Reps. Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesHillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' Airline CEOs, union leaders implore Congress and the administration to avoid Oct. 1 furloughs Missouri Rep. Sam Graves wins GOP primary MORE (Mo.), the panel’s top Republican, and Greg PenceGregory Joseph PenceRepublican lawmaker Greg Pence criticized for co-ownership of store selling racist antiques The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Cure Violence Global founder Gary Slutkin says violence and epidemics follow same patterns; Global death toll surpasses half a million House GOP lawmakers defy new mask requirement MORE (Ind.), the brother of Vice President Pence.

 

“It’s very unfortunate that people are more focused on who’s wearing a mask than the important task of reforming policing in America," a spokesman for Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said when asked about the mask compliance.

 
Despite the lack of widespread mask use, a spokesman for Graves said that members in the committee room were adhering to the physical distancing guidelines.

The mask requirement does not apply while lawmakers are speaking on camera, due to concerns about people watching on television with hearing issues being unable to read lips. The exemption could limit the effectiveness of the requirement, given warnings from public health experts that speaking without a mask can spread viral particles.

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GOP lawmakers have been taking cues from President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE, who has repeatedly declined to wear a mask during public events. He expressed a reluctance to wear a mask while announcing his administration’s guidance in April that Americans should wear facial coverings to reduce spread of the coronavirus.

The White House initially began requiring staffers to wear masks in May after one of Trump’s personal valets and Vice President Pence’s press secretary tested positive for the coronavirus. But White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that West Wing employees are no longer required to wear masks, although she said it is “recommended.”

The loosening of mask requirements in the West Wing nevertheless contradicts the advice from public health experts and members of the Trump administration urging the public to wear masks.

The new mask requirement in House committees came just 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.) revealed that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Rice was seen without a mask during a House session on May 28. He told CNN at the time that he wears a mask when he can't stay at least six feet away from other people, such as on an airplane.

“I'm socially distancing. I'm staying six feet away from folks," Rice told CNN.

Updated: 6:59 p.m.