Hoyer says Democratic leaders mulled requiring masks on House floor

Hoyer says Democratic leaders mulled requiring masks on House floor
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerAmy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew House Democrat calls for 'real adult discussion' on lawmaker pay The Hill's Campaign Report: Primary Day in New Jersey MORE (D-Md.) said Tuesday that Democratic leaders have considered making masks a requirement for lawmakers on the House floor during the coronavirus pandemic as they are now during committee meetings.

"The answer is yes, there has been consideration for that," Hoyer said during a call with reporters when asked if the mask requirement would be extended to the House floor.

The Capitol physician issued new guidance — at the request of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Trump's WHO decision raises bipartisan concerns in House Five takeaways from PPP loan data MORE (D-Calif.) — last week requiring masks for any House meetings “in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes.” Masks are still recommended, but not mandatory, for the House floor.

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Most House members of both parties have been voluntarily wearing face coverings since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended their use while out in public in April.

The handful of members who have declined to wear masks on the House floor or in committee meetings are nearly all Republicans.

Hoyer said that the mask requirement for committee meetings was considered more urgent because lawmakers and staff are working in closer proximity and for longer periods of time than on the House floor.

Since April, House officials have staggered the number of lawmakers in the House chamber at a time by calling them to vote in groups based on alphabetical order.

Lawmakers now briefly enter the chamber to cast their votes — or cast votes for colleagues who authorize them to vote by proxy on their behalf — and leave, in contrast to how they all used to congregate closely and hold lengthy conversations to pass the time during votes.

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Committee hearings and markups, meanwhile, still require lawmakers to spend time together in smaller rooms for hours at a time.

"The reason action was taken on committees [was] because the proximity is so much closer in committee rooms than it is on the floor," Hoyer said.
 
"Committees are much more proximate and much more close encounters, if you will. And committee members were very concerned about other members who were coming to committee and not wearing masks," he said.

Hoyer criticized lawmakers who refuse to wear masks as "very, very inconsiderate of others." He added that he has spoken with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? McCarthy to offer bill withholding funds from states that don't protect statues McCarthy calls on Pelosi to condemn 'mob violence' after toppling of St. Junipero Serra statue MORE (R-Calif.) to encourage Republicans to comply with wearing masks on Capitol Hill.

"I have talked to Minority Leader McCarthy urging him to urge all his members to wear a mask for the protection of others. What they want to do with themselves is their business. But what they may pose a danger to others, that's a collective interest of the House Representatives and the health of its members and staff," Hoyer said.

Yet the mask requirement in committees has not led to full compliance or enforcement. Several House Republicans still declined to wear masks during committee markups of legislation a day after the requirement went into effect last week.

Multiple Republicans did not wear masks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of police reform legislation last week. Several hours of proceedings passed before Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler wins Democratic primary Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks MORE (D-N.Y.) announced that he would no longer grant speaking time to any member not wearing a mask.

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.) nevertheless spoke up to object to the mask requirement — "I consider masks much more effective at spreading panic and much less effective at stopping a virus," he said — although he did later put on a mask.

Members are allowed to remove their masks while speaking so that people with auditory issues watching proceedings on television can read lips. But the exemption could limit the effectiveness of the mask requirement, given warnings from public health experts that speaking can spread viral particles.

Some House committees have held meetings entirely via videoconference or with some members meeting in person while others dial in remotely, following Democrats' adoption of new rules in May allowing remote proceedings during the pandemic. The rules also permit proxy voting, in which absent lawmakers can authorize colleagues physically present in the House chamber to cast votes on their behalf.

Lawmakers and staff are expected to adhere to a dress code on the House floor, which includes coats and ties for men and a ban on hats and nonreligious headdresses.

"You have to be properly dressed when you come to the floor," Hoyer said. "Masks are much more serious."