Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) renewed her commitment to anti-coronavirus measures Wednesday afternoon, ordering the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House to require all Members to wear face masks when conducting committee meetings or risk being barred from the House chambers.
“The Democratic leader has issued an order requiring all lawmakers to wear masks in committee hearings, which are often held in smaller rooms where social distancing is not practical,” the New York Daily News reported Wednesday after news of the order leaked. “Pelosi said she has ordered the Sergeant at Arms to enforce the rule strictly and to deny entry to any violators.”
Pelosi’s order follows concerns that Members of Congress may have been exposed to coronavirus after Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) tested positive for the virus after not wearing a mask during committee hearings. Rice did maintain the requisite six feet of “social distance” from other Members, however.
The Congressional physician also recommended, late Tuesday, that Members wear a mask whenever they are “in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes.” The guidance “cites new studies that speak to the broad scientific consensus on the effectiveness of mask-wearing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Pelosi’s Wednesday order makes that mandatory. The Sergeant-at-Arms is also charged with enforcing the order, barring entry to committee rooms if Members don’t comply with the rule. They will still be allowed on the House floor without a mask because it is possible to maintain “social distancing” in the large chamber.
The new rule is guaranteed to run afoul of at least a few Republican lawmakers, including Rice, who objected to wearing masks during work hours and questioned the need for anti-coronavirus measures altogether. Pelosi, who issued the order Wednesday, has also failed to abide by a number of anti-coronavirus measures, marching with thousands of others last week in memory of George Floyd, a black man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Democrats and Republicans have drawn new battle lines in the fight over coronavirus prevention measures after thousands took to the streets, over the past several weeks, to protest racism and police brutality. Democratic lawmakers joined many of the protests, often despite concerns that the novel coronavirus can spread easily in large groups of people.
Many of those same Democrats have now suddenly regained respect for coronavirus prevention, speaking out against President Donald Trump’s plan to hold a 20,000-person rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
That rally will go ahead as planned, according to the Trump 2020 re-election campaign, but because of coronavirus-related concerns, attendees will be temperature-checked and given face masks.
House members have only appeared in Washington, D.C., a handful of times since Congress returned to session in early May. On Wednesday, only the House Judiciary Committee met, and most attendees did not have to be reminded of Pelosi’s edict.
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