Hoyer: Maskless Republicans a public health threat
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that those congressional Republicans still refusing to wear masks amid the coronavirus pandemic are, themselves, a public health threat.
For members of a Republican Party that often touts the importance of personal responsibility, those lawmakers have exhibited “no personal responsibility or consideration for others,” Hoyer charged.
“Very frankly, too many Republicans have continued to act extraordinarily irresponsibly,” Hoyer told reporters on a press call.
The comments arrived shortly after the news broke that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) had become the latest member of Congress to contract the coronavirus.
Hoyer quickly urged Gohmert, 66, to self-quarantine and vote by proxy.
“Gohmert, No. 1, ought to be off the floor — ought to be quarantined,” Hoyer said.
“Joe Cunningham immediately — immediately — quarantined himself, as soon as he was tested,” Hoyer added, referring to the South Carolina Democrat who contracted COVID-19 earlier in the year.
“Gohmert ought to do the same.”
Shortly afterward, Gohmert told a local Texas news outlet that he was asymptomatic but would self-isolate for 10 days.
Gohmert, a conservative firebrand, was scheduled to join President Trump on a trip to Texas on Wednesday — an excursion requiring all participants to take a coronavirus test as a precaution for protecting the president. Gohmert’s test came back positive, Politico first reported.
While Gohmert is not the first lawmaker to contract the virus, his diagnosis prompted some special scrutiny in Congress, since he is among the small but willful group of conservative Republicans who have frequently refused to wear masks around Capitol Hill.
Public health experts, including those on Trump’s coronavirus response team, have strongly recommended mask-wearing as a way to minimize the spread of the highly contagious virus. Masks have been found to protect others from those who are infected, and more recent research suggests they may also help protect the mask-wearer from contracting the virus.
Gohmert had participated in Tuesday’s much-watched House Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General William Barr. Video captured by The Hill outside the hearing room shows Gohmert and Barr walking in proximity, neither of them wearing masks.
Barr’s office has said the attorney general will be tested on Wednesday.
Hoyer, though not a member of the Judiciary panel, had attended Tuesday’s hearing to bring some more attention to the Democrats’ criticisms of Barr. On Wednesday, he hammered Gohmert and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another conservative Freedom Caucus member who refuses to wear a mask, saying they jeopardized the health of everyone around them.
“[Gohmert] came into the room without a mask on. Jordan did the same. Totally irresponsible behavior, not for themselves — clearly irresponsible for themselves — but irresponsible to everybody else who was in that room. Everybody else they’ve come in contact with,” Hoyer said.
Behind GOP leaders, Republicans have been virtually united in their staunch opposition to remote voting, saying it’s an unconstitutional system that risks outside influence.
Democrats have dismissed those objections, arguing that proxy voting is secure technologically and the best way to ensure that lawmakers with health concerns can continue to represent their districts’ views as legislation hits the floor.
“Why they don’t like the process is beyond me, because it reflects 435 districts’ opinion, which is what the American people want,” Hoyer said. “Frankly, they don’t care whether I vote from this chair, that chair or the other chair. What my constituents care about is that I reflect their opinions.”
Thus far, House leaders have resisted any mandates that lawmakers be tested for the coronavirus. Hoyer said he plans to revisit that question in the wake of Gohmert’s diagnosis.
“We have discussed it in the past, and this may be — no, this is, I think — a moment where we ought to discuss it again,” Hoyer said. “I will be discussing it with the Speaker and with the minority leader, as to what we think is the policy that will be most effective.”