GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor

GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor
© Bonnie Cash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit MORE’s (D-Calif.) new mask requirement for the House floor had its intended effect Thursday: For once, there was effectively universal compliance.

The new requirement came after Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump order aims to curb US agencies' use of foreign workers after TVA outrage | EPA transition back to the office alarms employees | Hundreds of green groups oppose BLM nominee Interior stresses 'showing up for work' after Grijalva tests positive for coronavirus Trump's junk medicine puts his own supporters at deadly risk MORE (R-Texas) tested positive for the coronavirus the day before, rattling lawmakers and staff across the Capitol complex. 

Gohmert was among the handful of House Republicans who had been resistant to wearing masks despite public health experts’ recommendations that facial coverings are an effective way to prevent spread of viral droplets.

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Many of those lawmakers who didn’t consistently wear masks represent states that are currently coronavirus hot spots, including Texas, Arizona and Florida.

But on Thursday, every Republican on the House floor had a mask. Floor staffers also enforced compliance by telling members to pull up masks that were slipping under their noses.

One GOP lawmaker didn’t completely follow the rules, however.

At one point, Rep. Glenn GrothmanGlenn S. GrothmanGOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up Top conservatives pen letter to Trump with concerns on fourth coronavirus relief bill MORE (R-Wis.) was taking a phone call — which no one is supposed to do while seated in the chamber — with his mask under his chin.

A young female staffer quickly approached Grothman, who initially ignored her. But once an older male staffer intervened, Grothman got up and left. He later returned to the House chamber with his mask on.

Pelosi warned while announcing the new policy from the House floor on Wednesday evening that any lawmaker or staffer without a mask would be barred from entering the chamber and risked removal by the sergeant-at-arms if they didn’t comply.

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Some Democrats had called for requiring masks on the House floor weeks ago, long before Gohmert tested positive for COVID-19. But they said it’s better late than never.

“One would have hoped that this would have been done as a matter of common decency, but we obviously needed a rule,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinFive takeaways from Fauci's testimony GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor Five takeaways as panel grills tech CEOs MORE (D-Md.). “I am very glad the Speaker did what she did. I'm sorry she had to do it.”

“It is a scandalous situation that it comes to members getting sick and potentially exposing everybody else,” Raskin added. “Everybody's nervous.”

As recently as Tuesday, Gohmert participated in multiple committee hearings on Capitol Hill, at times without a mask. He has sometimes worn a facial covering in recent weeks, but also on some occasions mingled with fellow Republicans on the House floor without one.

The mask requirement, which officially took effect Thursday morning, applies to both the House floor and surrounding office buildings. A memo to lawmakers and staff from Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Capitol physician Brian Monahan said that anyone without a mask “will be asked to put on a face cover or leave the building.”

However, lawmakers don’t have to wear masks while they are recognized to speak on the House floor or in committees.

Pelosi previously began requiring masks in committee meetings in June. That directive came after another GOP lawmaker spotted around the Capitol without a mask — Rep. Tom RiceHugh (Tom) Thompson RiceGOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor Pelosi to require masks on House floor Multiple lawmakers self-quarantine after exposure to Gohmert MORE (S.C.) — tested positive for the coronavirus.

Democratic House committee chairmen have stopped short of forcing any members without masks to leave hearings. But some chairmen have instituted policies of refusing to grant speaking time to any member not wearing a mask. However, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who chairs the select committee on the coronavirus crisis, threatened last month to stop holding in-person hearings if GOP members continued to not wear masks.

House GOP leaders made a point of endorsing mask usage and reviewed safety precautions during a conference meeting with their members Thursday. Masks were required for the meeting itself.

“I think they all should wear masks,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief A trillion stimulus, but Kevin McCarthy for renewable energy — leading businesses want to change that When will telling the truth in politics matter again? MORE (R-Calif.) told reporters.

During the conference meeting, McCarthy also addressed complaints from staffers that numerous GOP lawmakers, including Gohmert, have been forcing their staff to work in-person during the pandemic and reportedly discouraged mask use in their offices.

McCarthy advised his members to check in with their staff because they shouldn’t assume that they are comfortable working in the office, according to a source in the room.

Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Illinois Republican tests positive for coronavirus The Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war MORE (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, also delivered a presentation in the meeting about the health and safety precautions that congressional offices should be following.

Gohmert tested positive for COVID-19 during a screening at the White House on Wednesday morning ahead of a planned trip to Texas with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE.

If Gohmert hadn’t been tested at the White House, it’s likely he would have spent yet another day on Capitol Hill carrying the virus without showing any symptoms and coming into contact with others.

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) turned down an offer from the White House in May for a similar testing system for Congress because they wanted to direct resources toward front-line workers. But McCarthy, Davis and others argue that the decision should be reconsidered.

“There's no other place that has this responsibility in this size that is being managed this way. I don't understand,” McCarthy said.

Gohmert’s diagnosis quickly set off a chain reaction of fellow lawmakers, staff and journalists rushing to self-quarantine and get tested.

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The number of lawmakers announcing that they were self-quarantining after exposure to Gohmert this week continued to grow on Thursday. At this point, at least four of Gohmert’s colleagues are self-isolating: Reps. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerHelping our seniors before it's too late House approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor MORE (R-Texas), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonGOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor The Hill's Coronavirus Report: iBIO Chairman and CEO Thomas Isett says developing a safe vaccine is paramount; US surpasses 150,000 coronavirus deaths with roughy one death per minute The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Gohmert tests positive; safety fears escalate on Capitol Hill MORE (R-La.) and Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceGOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor Cain given tributes after death from COVID-19 GOP's Gohmert introduces resolution that would ban the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.).

Granger sat next to Gohmert while on a flight from their home state on Sunday, while Johnson had dinner with Gohmert on Monday. Grijalva, meanwhile, chaired a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Tuesday attended by Gohmert on the Park Police’s handling of protesters in Lafayette Square last month. 

In addition, Gohmert briefly came in contact with Attorney General William BarrBill BarrGOP lawmaker calls for Justice Dept. to probe international court Barr pulls over to thank pro-police rally in Virginia Trump: Yates either lying or grossly incompetent MORE on Tuesday outside the room where Barr gave testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee. The two were seen in a congressional hallway without masks on.

A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed to The Hill on Wednesday that Barr would be tested for coronavirus the same day. Testing a subject the day after exposure to COVID-19 increases the likelihood of a false negative. 

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was among the lawmakers seen on the floor in recent weeks without a mask. But on Thursday, Biggs wore a mask emblazoned with his state’s flag, maintaining that he has worn it off and on.

“I don't think any of us has ever denied it's real,” Biggs said of the coronavirus.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.