House to require face masks after Republican who wouldn't wear one tests positive for virus

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the decision based on new guidelines from the congressional physician.

After Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) announced on Monday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will require members to wear face masks. Rice was one of several House Republicans who had refused to wear a face covering in Congress.

Pelosi requested on Tuesday night that all House committee chairs mandate masks at their hearings. "This requirement will be enforced by the Sergeant at Arms and non-compliant Members will be denied entry," a senior aide 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."

The sergeant at arms will be authorized to bar members without face coverings from committee rooms. Any member who refuses to wear a mask will be allowed to participate in committee meetings virtually, from a remote location.

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Pelosi's decision came after congressional physician Dr. Brian P. Monahan updated his safety guidance to require masks for all those "in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes." Masks are also "strongly recommended" for everyone on the House floor and in the Capitol building.

On Monday, Rice used a racist term for the disease when he posted on social media that he and two family members "all have the Wuhan Flu." Public health experts have warned that describing diseases based on their supposed geographic area of origin "has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors."

Rice and several other House Republicans have attended committee hearings and floor votes without masks, despite Monahan's earlier urging that they be worn.

The fourth-term lawmaker told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that he did not regret his actions. "My understanding is that a mask doesn't really protect you as much as it protects other people," he said. "I don't think it would have made much of a difference. That is, if I caught it on the House floor...I doubt that had anything to do with it."

Rice and other Republicans have refused to take advantage of a recent temporary rule change allowing members to work from home and cast their votes by proxy during the pandemic.

Last month, Rice complained that proxy voting broke more than "230 years of precedent," tweeting that it was "a huge power grab attempt" by Democrats and "violates the Constitution." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and others in the GOP caucus have challenged the rule in court, though legal experts say the House has wide authority to set its own rules and procedures.

Rice is not the first member of Congress to test positive for the coronavirus. At least seven representatives and one senator have been diagnosed with the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.