House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ordered Wednesday that all House members and staff must wear face coverings in House office buildings and will be asked to leave if they don’t.
The directive, distributed late Wednesday by the Sergeant-at-arms and attending physician “upon the direction of the Speaker of the House” includes very limited exceptions and goes into effect Thursday morning. It follows an announcement earlier on Wednesday that the speaker would require all House members and aides to wear masks on the House floor after Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) tested positive for coronavirus.
“Any person not wearing a face cover will be asked to put on a face cover or leave the building,” the directive obtained by the Washington Post said. “All Members and staff are expected to adhere to this requirement as a sign of respect for the health, safety, and well-being of others present in the Chamber and surrounding areas.”
The news comes after earlier on Wednesday Pelosi said that members and staff would be required to wear masks “at all times in the hall of the House.” Last month, the speaker had begun to implement stricter rules on masks by asking committee chairs to require masks at all hearings — and authorized the sergeant at arms to bar anyone who refused to cover their face. Some members do not always abide by the rule.
In her Wednesday announcement Pelosi said that lawmakers will be allowed to temporarily remove masks when they are speaking, but members and staff will not be allowed to enter the chamber if they don’t wear masks.
She added that as speaker she has the authority to direct the House sergeant-at-arms to refuse entry to members who refuse to wear a mask.
A mask may be temporarily removed when a person is eating or drinking. A mask may also be removed during the delivery of a speech or during an interview assuming no one is within six feet.
Pelosi’s broadened mask mandate followed growing concern among some lawmakers who expressed concern about safety precautions on Capitol Hill after Gohmert was diagnosed. Some GOP members still opted not to wear masks on the House floor earlier on Wednesday before Pelosi’s announcement.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) told CNN Wednesday that he does not plan to self-isolate despite having a recent maskless interaction with Gohmert who had announced a positive test for the virus. Last week, CNN said that Roy and Gohmert interacted on the House floor for an extended period and neither of the congressmen wore masks.
“I’m not concerned,” Roy told CNN.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told CNN Wednesday that while the House isn’t mandating testing for lawmakers yet, “we’re discussing that.”
The Senate has not implemented formal mask requirements.