House GOP lawmakers defy new mask requirement

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Biden: US to hit 200M vaccine target on Wednesday | House Dems to unveil drug pricing measure ahead of Biden package | FDA finds multiple failures at J&J plant House Dems to unveil drug pricing measure ahead of Biden package House Democrats eye passing DC statehood bill for second time 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.


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 NadlerHillicon Valley: Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing | Seven House Republicans vow to reject donations from Big Tech Wyden-Paul bill would close loophole allowing feds to collect private data Jim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing 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 JordanTraditional media yawns as Maxine Waters gets pass on inciteful rhetoric Demings asked about Senate run after sparring with Jordan on police funding The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After historic verdict, Chauvin led away in handcuffs 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 Republicans ask Pelosi to reschedule Biden's address to Congress GOP lawmakers ask Mayorkas for documents on warnings from DHS to Biden on immigration House passes bills providing citizenship path for Dreamers, farmworkers 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.


But Nadler did not linger on the issue and quickly moved on to allow Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinCongress and the administration cannot play games with the Congressional Review Act Capitol Police watchdog paints damning picture of Jan. 6 failures The Hill's Morning Report - Biden officials brace for worst despite vaccine data 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 DeFazioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Pelosi wants Biden infrastructure bill done by August The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes 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 GravesBiden turns focus to next priority with infrastructure talks Biden to meet with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure Lawmakers offer competing priorities for infrastructure plans MORE (Mo.), the panel’s top Republican, and Greg PenceGregory PenceImpeachment video shows Pence had 'nuclear football' as he moved away from Capitol riot New security video shows harrowing details of Capitol attack OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Nine, including former Michigan governor, charged over Flint water crisis | Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies | Trump admin adds hurdle to increase efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters 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 LynchUS wasted billions of dollars in Afghanistan: watchdog House Oversight requests Secret Service briefing on threats of extremist violence in wake of Capitol riot The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Republicans squeeze Biden with 0 billion COVID-19 relief alternative 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.


GOP lawmakers have been taking cues from President TrumpDonald TrumpUS gives examples of possible sanctions relief to Iran GOP lawmaker demands review over FBI saying baseball shooting was 'suicide by cop' House passes bill aimed at stopping future Trump travel ban 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 RiceRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Trump doubles down on endorsement of South Carolina GOP chair Forget Trump's behavior — let's focus on the GOP and America's future 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.