Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert spends ample time on the House floor not wearing a mask, often talking with aides and lawmakers at length while not maintaining a social distance.
Asked why not, the 66-year-old Gohmert had an explanation that defied the science and the recommendations of leading public health experts.
“I don’t have the coronavirus, turns out as of yesterday I’ve never had it. But if I get it, you’ll never see me without a mask,” the conservative Texan told CNN Friday.
Told that health experts say that people who don’t have symptoms may be carrying the virus and can unknowingly spread it to others, Gohmert responded: “But I keep being tested and I don’t have it. So I’m not afraid of you, but if I get it I’ll wear a mask.”
Gohmert – whose state has seen a rise in coronavirus cases, prompting GOP Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday to order the closure of bars and reduce restaurant capacity – would not respond to a question when asked about the last time he was tested.
Most congressional Republicans walk around the Capitol wearing a mask. Top Republicans – like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – have called on Americans to wear masks, and a member of the House GOP leadership, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, on Friday tweeted a photo of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing a mask with the hashtag “realmenwearmasks.”
Yet there’s a sizable group of conservative House Republicans, who like President Donald Trump, decline to wear them. Vice President Mike Pence, who has gone back-and-forth in his public outings wearing a mask, on Friday stopped short of urging Americans to wear face-coverings, instead saying it was an issue best left up to state and local officials to provide guidance to their residents.
“And we will continue to reinforce that message,” Pence said.
Public health experts warn that people can contract Covid-19 at anytime – even immediately after getting tested for the disease. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges everyone to wear a “cloth face cover when they have to go out in public,” noting that masks are critical “in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms.”
“If you test positive or negative for COVID-19, no matter the type of test, you still should take preventive measures to protect yourself and others,” the CDC website says, referring to face coverings as a preventative measure.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, meantime, said this week that if 95% of Americans wore masks in public, it would prevent 33,000 deaths by October 1. And Capitol Hill’s top physician, Brian Monahan, has repeatedly urged lawmakers to wear masks when it’s difficult to socially distance, like on the House floor.
But wearing masks on the floor is not a House requirement – and a group of Republicans continues to defy the recommendations. On Friday, CNN spotted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise making the rounds on the House floor without wearing a mask, nor was Rep. Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican who incorrectly told CNN last month that “there’s no need” to wear a mask because of so-called “herd immunity,” something not established by the science.
Gohmert was chatting at a close distance with GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia. And Scalise told CNN last month that while he wears masks on airplanes, he noted “it’s harder” to interact with colleagues while wearing a face covering.
After one member – GOP Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina – was not wearing a mask on the floor in late May and later announced he had contracted the disease, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered House chairmen to enforce decorum rules that require lawmakers to wear masks while in committee meetings.
That order has prompted tension in hearings in recent days.
At Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler told lawmakers they must be wearing a mask unless speaking. But Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the panel, continued to sit at the top of the dais without a mask throughout the hearing (Jordan is often spotted on the House floor also not wearing a mask).
When Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Florida Democrat, was acting as chair, she called out Jordan. “Mr. Jordan, I find it incredibly disrespectful that you have been sitting here next to the chairman without wearing masks,” she said. “You’re putting other people’s lives and their family (at risk).”
“Every time I speak with the chairman, I put a mask on. I maintain proper social distancing,” Jordan interrupted.
Jordan was the subject of another heated exchange on Friday during a separate committee hearing.
“We’ve got a rule which says you have to wear a jacket on the floor of the House and I know people tease our friend Mr. Jordan about not ever wearing a jacket,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat. “I don’t care about his not wearing a jacket, that’s a fashion statement, but when he doesn’t wear a mask and interacts with other people in a legislative assembly, that is dangerous, that is a public health menace.”
Raskin added: “Why is it some kind of macho thing, like if I don’t wear a mask, I’m tough?”
GOP Rep. Mark Green, who is a physician, pushed back as well: “If you’re asking my clinical opinion, my opinion is that patients who are in high risk categories, people, individuals, anyone who is 65 years or older that has co-morbidities should wear a mask. If you don’t, I’m telling people in Tennessee, it’s not required.”
Green’s comments also contradict CDC guidance.
Most Republicans still are seen wearing a mask in the House. Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, who is a ranking Republican on the House committee that oversees health policy, told CNN Friday it’s important to wear a mask to try to prevent the virus from spreading as an “added precaution.”
And Walden added: “I just figured it doesn’t hurt to wear one. And for some of us, it might improve our looks.”
CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.