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Gohmert’s coronavirus case sparks renewed debate over Capitol protocols

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said congressional leaders may need to rethink their coronavirus protocols — including requiring regular testing for members — after Rep. Louie Gohmert tested positive Wednesday.

Gohmert (R-Texas), who frequently refuses to wear a mask around the Capitol, tested positive during a pre-screening by the White House before a scheduled flight with President Donald Trump to Texas — news that quickly reverberated across the Hill.


“We’re not mandating testing at this point … but we’re discussing that,” Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday. “We have discussed it in the past. This is a moment, I think, where we ought to be discussing it again.”

So far, congressional leaders in both chambers have refused to implement routine testing for lawmakers, even rejecting an offer from the administration to supply rapid tests for members to use. And some senior aides have privately questioned how leadership would require tests when they can’t even get every member to wear a mask.

But some senior lawmakers have continued to push their leaders to adopt a more frequent testing regimen. That includes Senate Health Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who said Wednesday that he’s told GOP leaders that all members should be tested when they return to the Capitol after a recess “so we’re not carriers coming back and forth.”

“I have said for weeks that I think it’s a good idea for us to be tested,” Alexander added.

While House Democrats implemented proxy voting in an effort to discourage at-risk members from flying back and forth to Washington, Republicans have for the most part refused to participate. The result is hundreds of lawmakers traveling from across the country — many coming from hot spots like Florida, Texas and Arizona — to vote and attend committee hearings in person.

Later Tuesday, retiring Rep. Francis Rooney from Florida became the first Republican to vote by proxy since the House changed its rules in mid-May. Rooney had previously signaled he wanted to use proxy voting only to be discouraged by Republican leaders, who are suing Democrats over the constitutionality of remote voting.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi instituted a series of additional safety measures last month for when lawmakers are inside the Capitol, including a mandate to wear masks during committee hearings and encouraging masks anytime they are in the House chamber, though not all Republicans abide by those rules.

Both chambers also require members to vote in smaller groups to limit the number of people on the floor and frequently sanitize podiums and microphones. The House’s rules, overall, go further than the Senate’s; Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the use of proxy voting on the floor.

But unlike several state legislatures, members and staff are not required to have their temperatures checked before entering the sprawling Capitol complex, nor are they required to be tested for the virus. Even during the previous coronavirus lockdowns across the country, hundreds of people streamed in and out of congressional buildings daily.

Members can get tested through the Capitol physician’s office, and those tests are more available now than they were in the early weeks of the pandemic, lawmakers and aides say.

Hoyer scorched Republicans like Gohmert for not following the guidance of the Capitol physician, including wearing masks, and said more may need to be done because of that to keep other lawmakers and staffers safe.

“Too many Republicans have continued to act extraordinarily irresponsibly, including Louie Gohmert. Louie Gohmert ought to quarantine himself right now,” Hoyer said.

Gohmert is one of several Republicans who has openly flouted the request for members to wear masks, despite nine lawmakers testing positive for the coronavirus in recent months. Dozens of staff inside the building, including Capitol Police officers, have also tested positive. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters Gohmert was asymptomatic.

Democrats have publicly rebuked GOP colleagues in recent weeks who have refused to wear masks, at times leading to tense confrontations during hearings. Just on Tuesday, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler implored some Republicans to follow the rules and wear their mask while in the hearing room with Attorney General William Barr — which several, including ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), openly ignored.

House GOP leaders did tighten rules on masks and temperature checks within their own caucus after another member, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), tested positive for the virus several weeks ago. On Wednesday, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) said she was self-quarantining “out of an abundance of caution” after she sat next to Gohmert on a flight from Texas on Sunday. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) also said he’s self-quarantining after “a selfish act by Mr. Gohmert.”

Many Republicans have been more vigilant in wearing masks in and around the Capitol in recent weeks, though a small group — many of whom are close to Trump — have continued to roam the building without masks and in defiance of social distancing guidelines.

Asked if he was concerned about the safety of lawmakers in the Capitol, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries said Wednesday that Republicans need to “stop politicizing public health guidance” and wear masks at all times in the building.

“I’m concerned about the irresponsible behavior of many Republicans who have chosen consistently to flout well established public health guidance, perhaps out of fealty to their boss Donald Trump, who is the head of the anti-mask movement in America,” Jeffries said.

Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

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