Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is hoping to establish firm rules on wearing facial coverings in committee hearings, and giving the sergeant-at-arms the authority to remove from the chamber lawmakers who do not abide by the standards.
Late on Tuesday, Pelosi asked House committee chairs to tighten rules on masks in order to reduce the potential spread of coronavirus within the lawmaking body’s chambers. Under the new rules, the sergeant-at-arms would be empowered to remove from the room anyone not complying with the requirement to wear a mask, including lawmakers.
Refusal to adhere to the new rules could result in committee members being denied the ability to speak in important meetings as well, an aide to Pelosi told The Washington Post.
“Ultimately, Chairs will have the option of not recognizing Members in committee proceedings that fail to comply with the mask requirement,” that aide said.
While many members of Congress and their staff have worn masks or facial coverings without being prompted, a small number of Republican lawmakers is refusing to do so. Those not adhering to the standard so far include Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who has said the six-foot rule for social distancing established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is adequate enough.
CDC guidelines, however, urge a six-foot distancing standard in addition to wearing a mask or facial covering, not one or the other.
Another Republican, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-Louisiana), has previously asserted that wearing a mask is an affront to religious principles, and has wrongly suggested masks don’t even work in the first place.
“Can you smell through that mask? Then you’re not stopping any sort of a virus,” Higgins said late May. “It’s part of the dehumanization of the children of God. You’re participating in it by wearing a mask.”
Higgins’s words, however, are not backed by science.
Republicans may be taking a cue from President Donald Trump, who has refused to wear a mask in public settings on a number of occasions. Trump has also ridiculed political opponents for wearing a mask or facial coverings
In May when he had difficulty hearing a reporter’s question, for example, Trump derided the individual for wanting to keep their mask on. “Oh okay, you want to be politically correct,” Trump said.
The debate on wearing masks in Congress this week comes as nine states across the country are seeing record-high increases in either their single-day coronavirus numbers or in their seven-day COVID-19 new case averages. Among those states is Oklahoma, which will play host to Trump on Saturday at his first campaign rally since March.
Though the Trump campaign will make masks available for participants at that rally, there will be no requirement to wear a facial covering during the event. Attendees will have to agree, however, not to hold the campaign liable if they contract coronavirus because of the event.
Close to 120,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the start of March, and more than 2.2 million have been infected so far this year. One health model predicts that 85,000 more Americans could die of COVID-19 between now and October.