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Lawmakers must now wear masks at all congressional hearings

Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the new rule after updated guidance from the attending physician of Congress.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) arrive with other Democrats to announce police reform legislation in the wake of protests sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody June 8, 2020, in Washington, DC.

Since returning to Washington, DC, most members of the House of Representatives have been wearing masks to prevent the transmission of Covid-19. But a small number of conservative lawmakers have staunchly refused.

That will no longer be acceptable — at least in committee hearings — according to a Washington Post report by Tim Elfrink and Felicia Sonmez. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) asked committee chairs late Tuesday to require masks at all their hearings, indicating that the chamber’s Sergeant at Arms would be enforcing the new requirement.

A senior aide familiar with the request sent an email to the Post laying out the details. “This requirement will be enforced by the Sergeant at Arms and non-compliant Members will be denied entry,” the senior aide told the Post. “Ultimately, Chairs will have the option of not recognizing Members in committee proceedings that fail to comply with the mask requirement.”

Lawmakers who refuse to don a mask will have the option to participate in committee hearings remotely via video conferencing.

The change comes after 12 states have seen a recent rise in Covid-19-related hospitalizations for infections. The attending physician of Congress issued updated guidelines based on emerging science which says that wearing masks is key to preventing transmission of the virus. According to the guidelines, which were updated Tuesday, masks are required when lawmakers gather “in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes.”

According to the Post, the new rules won’t apply to floor votes or in other areas of the Capitol, where the physician’s guidance only “strongly encourages” the use of masks.

While the vast majority of lawmakers from either party have adapted and begun using masks, several Republican holdouts had still remained, like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). Previously, Jordan had argued that merely maintaining 6 feet of space between members would offer sufficient protection against transmission.

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) last month objected to wearing a mask on religious grounds, while also understating masks’ efficacy. “Can you smell through that mask? Then you’re not stopping any sort of a virus,” he told CNN last month. “It’s part of the dehumanization of the children of God. You’re participating in it by wearing a mask.”

But Jordan could be seen wearing a mask at Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee markup of the police reform bill. Committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) addressed the new rule as he called the meeting to order. “After this markup is over, we will go home to our loved ones,” Nadler said. “Wearing a mask helps protect them from serious illness as well.”