CAPITOL HILL - The U.S. House of Representatives begins a new mandated face mask policy Thursday, following an order from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was facing increasing pressure to address safety concerns in one of the nation’s most high-profile office complexes.
Pelosi issued the order late Wednesday after U.S. Congressman Louie Gohmert tested positive for the coronavirus. Gohmert had been seen recently without a mask on Capitol Hill.
Politico was the first to report on the test result, which came before Gohmert was scheduled to travel Wednesday to his home state with President Donald Trump. Gohmert did not make the trip.
After the diagnosis, Gohmert told Texas news station KETK he had been wearing a mask at times in the past week and suggested, "I can't help but wonder if by keeping a mask on and keeping it in place if I might have put some of the virus onto the mask and breathed it in. I don't know.”
Gohmert said in an interview with CNN last month he did not wear a mask because he was being tested regularly for the coronavirus.
“I don’t have the coronavirus, turns out as of y I’ve never had it,” Gohmert said. “But if I get it, you’ll never see me without a mask.”
The 66-year-old Republican lawmaker attended a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday with Attorney General William Barr, during which chairman Jerry Nadler scolded several other Republicans for not wearing masks.
Politico also reported Gohmert returned to his Capitol Hill office after receiving the diagnosis at the White House so that he could inform his staff in person.
Responding to news of the positive test, House Majority leader Steny Hoyer criticized Gohmert and many other Republicans for not consistently donning a mask.
“Too many Republicans have continued to act extraordinarily irresponsibly, including Louis Gohmert. Louie Gohmert ought to quarantine himself right now. He had this test, as I understand it prior to the Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, he was in the committee room. He put on his mask when he sat down in his chair. He came into the room without a mask on,” Hoyer told reporters.
Under the new mask policy in the House, all members of Congress and staff are required to wear a mask at all times in the Capitol and office buildings.
The policy instituted under the direction of the U.S. Capitol’s attending physician says, “Any person not wearing a face cover will be asked to put on a face cover or leave the building. This requirement will remain in effect until a determination is made that such a requirement is no longer necessary.”