House GOP lawmakers defy new mask requirement

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAs coronavirus surges, Trump tries to dismantle healthcare for millions Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus poses questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone sentence Pelosi plans legislation to limit pardons, commutations after Roger Stone move 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 NadlerNadler: Barr dealings with Berman came 'awfully close to bribery' Nadler wins Democratic primary Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November 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: Coronavirus poses questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone sentence Nadler: Barr dealings with Berman came 'awfully close to bribery' How conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide 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 McClintockDemocrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Hoyer says Democratic leaders mulled requiring masks on House floor Mask-wearing becomes political even as some governors ease resistance 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 RaskinDemocrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote 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 DeFazioShould the United States withdraw from the WTO? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated Republicans score procedural victory on Democrats' infrastructure bill 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 GravesOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated House approves .5T green infrastructure plan Democrats detail their .5T green infrastructure plan MORE (Mo.), the panel’s top Republican, and Greg PenceGregory Joseph PenceThe 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 Trump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans 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.

Like DeFazio, many Democrats on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee participated in the markup remotely. But at least one Democrat, Rep. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchThe Hill's Campaign Report: Jacksonville mandates face coverings as GOP convention approaches Steyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary House GOP lawmakers defy new mask requirement MORE (Mass.) was physically present in the room with Republicans – and he was also spotted without a mask.
 
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 TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' 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 RiceHouse GOP lawmakers defy new mask requirement Pelosi asks House chairs to enforce mandatory mask-wearing during hearings House GOP lawmaker 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.