WASHINGTON — Many Republican members of Congress were noticeably reluctant to wear masks on the House floor on Thursday, sparking a sharp debate with Democrats, who all readily accepted the federal guidance.
As lawmakers gathered for a morning debate on creating a coronavirus stimulus oversight committee, lawmakers on the GOP side of the chamber largely left their mouths and noses uncovered, while even some covered Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, chose to drop their coverings while speaking.
The Democrats, who all appeared to enter the chamber covered, wore bandanas and masks of many colors. At least two were orange. One wore a mask embroidered with a sparkly sequin American flag.
House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) lashed into his Republican colleagues who chose not to cover up after Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) spoke. Jordan, who coughed repeatedly while awaiting his turn to speak, did not wear a mask while seated on the floor, or at the lectern.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 23, 2020.AP
“People can do what they want to do,” McGovern scolded. “But while we all want to show how fearless we are, we should be mindful of the people that are surrounding us. And so until I’m advised otherwise, I’m going to keep my mask on.”
“While face coverings are not mandatory, they are certainly recommended,” McGovern said. “The office of the attending physician has also advised that a face cover will produce a minimal reduction in sound when using a microphone. The face covering is most useful in reducing viral spread while speaking.”
Some Democrats, including Pelosi of California, who wore a white bandana, removed their face coverings to speak.
A sign instructing members of the House of Representatives to maintain social distancing requirementsGetty Images
Meanwhile, Republicans argued against the proposed new oversight committee, saying it would be a politicized weapon to attack President Trump. Later Thursday, lawmakers will vote on a half-trillion-dollar package of small business loans, hospital aid and testing funds.
The House gathering was the first since March 27, when masks were rare or nonexistent on the floor, as US health officials said at the time masks were ineffective for the public to protect against the virus. The health guidance swiveled this month, with federal officials advising face coverings as an optional measure to prevent spread of the virus.
In several Asian countries, authorities credit universal mask wearing with preventing major outbreaks of COVID-19. In Taiwan, which has a larger population than New York, there are about 400 cases of the coronavirus after early widespread mask wearing.
Republicans who arrived on the House floor without a mask included Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Tom McClintock of California, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jody Hice of Georgia and James Comer of Kentucky. Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia walked onto the floor holding his mask.
Some Republicans did wear masks, and the number who did so increased around noon when lawmakers pivoted to debating the fourth large coronavirus bill.
GOP Reps. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Kevin Brady of Texas, Steve Chabot of Ohio and Debbie Lasko of Arizona were among those who wore masks.
As of noon, all Democrats had arrived with masks. The closest to an unmasked Democrat was Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, who wore a mask tied around his neck. It did not appear that Neal ever fastened the mask onto his face.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., right, walks off of the House floor on Capitol Hill on April 23, 2020.AP
During House votes last month, many New York Democrats ignored guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which urged a 14-day self-quarantine for people recently in the New York metro area.