GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up

GOP leaders are increasingly embracing the use of masks as coronavirus cases rise sharply across the country, even as President TrumpDonald TrumpNYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Arizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Biden and UK prime minister discuss NATO, multilateralism during call MORE refuses to wear one and attends rallies and events where they are optional.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, opened a hearing on Tuesday by all but pleading for Trump to wear a mask, arguing it would depoliticize the issue.

“Unfortunately this simple lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says if you're for Trump, you don't wear a mask. If you're against Trump, you do,” Alexander said. “That is why I have suggested the president should occasionally wear a mask even though there are not many occasions when it is necessary for him to do so.”


Alexander, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, noted that Trump has “millions of admirers.”

“They would follow his lead. It would help end this political debate. The stakes are too high for it to continue,” he said.

Alexander is far from alone. Other top GOP lawmakers imploring people to wear masks, if not the president directly, include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kentucky Republican committee rejects resolution urging McConnell to condemn Trump impeachment Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE (Ky.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse GOP leader says he has 'concerns' over Cheney's impeachment vote McCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Cheney tests Trump grip on GOP post-presidency MORE (Calif.) and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyHouse GOP leader says he has 'concerns' over Cheney's impeachment vote Cheney tests Trump grip on GOP post-presidency GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE (Wyo.).

"For the Fourth of July, we could all show our patriotism with a red, white, and blue mask going out there and show some strength," McCarthy said during an interview Tuesday on "Fox & Friends."

The shift is especially marked in the Senate, where the GOP majority is increasingly in play amid voters’ dissatisfaction with Trump’s handling of the pandemic and a suddenly weak economy.

The rising COVID-19 cases are a danger to a strengthening economy, which might represent the best political hope for Trump and the GOP. As cases rise, states such as Texas and Florida have had to reimpose restrictions that will cut off parts of the economy.


Despite all this, GOP leaders are still facing resistance from members of their own party, some of whom on Tuesday still openly flouted masks and social distancing recommendations on the House floor. 

Rep. Chuck FleischmannCharles (Chuck) Joseph FleischmannRep. Adriano Espaillat tests positive for COVID-19 Growing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-Tenn.) acknowledged that there are lingering divisions within the GOP conference but predicted that more members will come around to wearing masks given the recent surge in cases in the South and West.

“The spike-up is certainly helping the narrative of ‘wear the mask,’” he said.

In the House, GOP leaders are beginning to encourage their members to wear masks as Democrats have started enforcing newly imposed requirements to use facial coverings in committee meetings.

The House Republican Steering Committee had masks and hand sanitizer available outside its meeting on Monday. McCarthy could be heard advising members of his conference to wear masks and practice social distancing as members exited the room. 

Yet at least half a dozen House Republicans mingled together on the floor on Tuesday like in pre-pandemic times, including Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day McCarthy won't back effort to oust Cheney MORE (Ohio), Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Top GOP lawmakers call for Swalwell to be removed from Intelligence Committee House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit MORE (Ohio), Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupOvernight Health Care — Fauci: Lack of facts 'likely' cost lives in coronavirus fight | CDC changes COVID-19 vaccine guidance to allow rare mixing of Pfizer, Moderna shots | Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda Trump, Biden battle over rush for COVID-19 vaccine The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden asks if public can trust vaccine from Trump ahead of Election Day | Oklahoma health officials raised red flags before Trump rally MORE (Ohio), Glenn GrothmanGlenn S. GrothmanRepublicans press FBI for briefing on efforts by Chinese government operatives to gain influence with lawmakers House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Hopes and fears for religious freedom in Vietnam MORE (Wis.), Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertTrust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots Why Trump could face criminal charges for inciting violence and insurrection Democrats to levy fines on maskless lawmakers on House floor MORE (Texas) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.).

Dozens of other GOP lawmakers similarly gathered on the floor to casually catch up with colleagues but did wear masks.

By contrast, only a handful of Democratic staffers and lawmakers lingered on the floor — and all wore masks.

Jordan and other Republicans declining to always wear masks in public argued that it should be a personal choice.

“My attitude is in committee if I have to talk to someone and close, I'll put the mask on,” Jordan said. “But I think it's up to the member to be able to decide. If you can keep proper social distancing, I think it's fine. That's what I try to do. I mean, I've been tested seven times.”

Jordan is the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and one of Trump’s closest congressional allies.

Trump has declined to wear a mask in public since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began recommending that people use facial coverings while in public to limit viral spread from individuals not yet showing symptoms. 


Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryNYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Democrats to levy fines on maskless lawmakers on House floor Growing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege MORE (R-Pa.) similarly said that he prefers social distancing to wearing a mask. 

“I wear a mask when I'm close to people, right?” Perry told The Hill. “It's social distancing, so if I'm close, I can't be distanced. But I think it should be your individual choice, right?”

A third GOP lawmaker argued that people should take social distancing precautions but be responsible for their own decisions. 

“I'll die of something, but it won't be fear. It's destructive to the psyche of this country with everyone running around afraid. I think it's being used for political purposes to some extent, and that's unfortunate,” the lawmaker said.

Democrats worried about the safety of in-person proceedings have begun cracking down on mask enforcement.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the chairman of the select committee overseeing the coronavirus response, warned in a letter to House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseBiden under pressure to deliver more COVID-19 shots Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Scalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration MORE (La.), the panel’s top Republican, on Monday that he would no longer grant speaking time to anyone not wearing a mask during future in-person meetings.


Scalise initially maintained that he and other GOP members of the select committee not wearing masks were sufficiently spaced apart during a Friday hearing. But he later backed down from prolonging a fight.

“If that's the requirement, we're going to comply with the requirement. It's not a big deal,” Scalise said.

Yet Scalise wouldn’t go as far as calling for Trump to set an example by wearing a mask.

“The president has said he’s worn masks in certain settings. And obviously he's got a lot of smart people around him that are giving him good safety protocols,” Scalise said.

Cheney, the third-ranking member of House GOP leadership, has gone further in publicly advocating for masks.

“Dick Cheney says WEAR A MASK. #realmenwearmasks,” Cheney tweeted on Friday with a photo of her father, the former vice president.


McConnell implored Americans to wear masks during a Senate floor speech on Monday, arguing that “we must have no stigma, none, about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people.”

“In fact, the more we hate the pain and suffering that accompanied the strict stay-home guidelines a few months ago, the happier we should be to take reasonable small steps every day to ensure our country can stay on offense against the virus,” McConnell said.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Trump's position on masks during a briefing on Tuesday, telling reporters he has “no problem” with others wearing masks and that it was his decision whether to do so himself.  

“The president has said he has no problem with masks, that he encourages people to make whatever decision is best for their safety and to follow what their local jurisdictions say,” McEnany said when asked about Republicans encouraging the president to wear a mask.

“CDC guidelines are still recommended but not required, and the president is the most tested man in America. It’s his decision whether to wear a mask,” she added. 

Mike Lillis and Morgan Chalfant contributed.