Speaker Nancy Pelosi is requiring that House members wear masks when attending committee hearings, an edict that comes amid spiking COVID-19 cases in many states. The results were mixed Wednesday.
The requirement does not apply to the House floor, where a Republican lawmaker who tested positive for coronavirus was recently seen without a face covering. Pelosi, D-Calif., wears a mask when making her way about the Capitol but removes it when speaking.
The tightening mask rules came as the House Judiciary panel conducted a drafting session Wednesday on a policing bill, the first such meeting held under new rules permitting remote attendance. At a hearing last week, several GOP lawmakers, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, declined to wear masks, which are considered an easy, effective way to combat the spread of the virus.
On Wednesday, top Judiciary panel Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio declined to wear a mask for much of the session, and California Republican Tom McClintock scrapped with Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who declared he would not call upon lawmakers who were failing to wear masks.
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Nadler said, “I have a duty and a responsibility to maintain order and decorum in our proceedings, which includes making sure that we conduct our business in as safe a manner.”
An advisory by Attending Physician Brian Monahan said that for House members “in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes, face coverings are REQUIRED.” It said face coverings will be provided for those who arrive without face covers.
The Capitol physician's guidance “cites new studies that speak to the broad scientific consensus on the effectiveness of mask-wearing to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the Democratic aide said in an accompanying statement, adding that the Sergeant of Arms will deny entry to lawmakers who don't wear masks and committee chairs can refuse to recognize them.
Pelosi is requiring lawmakers to conform to the guidance, according to an advisory to lawmakers shared by a senior Democratic aide on condition of anonymity.
The Capitol complex is typically bustling at this time of year, but the House, with 431 voting members at present, has been mostly absent, voting most recently late last month. Some members, often those who take their political cues from President Donald Trump — who does not wear a mask — have simply declined to wear one as well.
The Senate, more manageable with 100 members, has been voting regularly, and most members are disciplined about wearing a mask.
House panels are ramping up their legislative work amid the pandemic, preparing to draft an annual defense measure and the yearly spending bills. Wednesday's Judiciary session was the first committee drafting session since the coronavirus shut down the Capitol in March.
Many states are seeking to reopen aggressively and mask usage is uneven at best as the country enters the summer.
Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., announced earlier this week that he had contracted COVID-19 but has recovered. He was spotted on the House floor recently without a mask.