“The speaker has the authority to direct the sergeant at arms to remove a member from the floor as a matter of decorum,” Pelosi said, adding that not wearing a mask would be considered a “serious breach of decorum.”
Gohmert (R-Texas), who frequently refuses to wear a mask around the Capitol, tested positive during a pre-screening by the White House before a scheduled flight with President Donald Trump to Texas — news that quickly reverberated across the Hill.
But it’s unclear if congressional leaders will stop with the mask mandate. Some other senior lawmakers and even White House chief of staff Mark Meadows suggested that Congress should require members to be tested, especially when flying in after a recess where many lawmakers come from coronavirus hotspots.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Wednesday that a more robust testing regimen for members was under discussion.
“We’re not mandating testing at this point … but we’re discussing that,” Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters. “We have discussed it in the past. This is a moment, I think, where we ought to be discussing it again.”
The questions about safety protocols in the Capitol come after Gohmert — who typically flouted masks and social distancing around the House chamber — tested positive, prompting a wave of other lawmakers to self-isolate after potential exposure.
Pelosi already instituted a series of additional safety measures last month for when lawmakers are inside the Capitol, including a mandate to wear masks during committee hearings and encouraging masks anytime they are in the House chamber, though not all Republicans abide by those rules. But Democrats are now looking at whether to go further.
More testing is also under consideration. So far, congressional leaders in both chambers have refused to implement routine testing for lawmakers, even rejecting an offer from the administration to supply rapid tests for members to use. And some senior aides have privately questioned how leadership would require tests when they can’t even get every member to wear a mask.
Some senior lawmakers have continued to push their leaders to adopt a more frequent testing regimen. That includes Senate Health Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who said Wednesday that he’s told GOP leaders that all members should be tested when they return to the Capitol after a recess “so we’re not carriers coming back and forth.”
“I have said for weeks that I think it’s a good idea for us to be tested,” Alexander added.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows offered Wednesday to help set up more robust testing in the Capitol, but it’s unclear how quickly that could happen, if at all.
“Congress ought to start testing their members,” Meadows said, noting that he had spoken to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about the idea. The former Republican lawmaker did not say if he would also pitch the idea to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Pelosi.
“We’d be glad to help with that,” Meadows said.
While House Democrats implemented proxy voting in an effort to discourage at-risk members from flying back and forth to Washington, Republicans have for the most part refused to participate. The result is hundreds of lawmakers traveling from across the country — many coming from hot spots like Florida, Texas and Arizona — to vote and attend committee hearings in person.
Later Wednesday, retiring Rep. Francis Rooney from Florida became the first Republican to vote by proxy since the House changed its rules in mid-May, specifically citing Gohmert’s positive test as a reason to do so. Rooney had previously signaled he wanted to use proxy voting only to be discouraged by Republican leaders, who are suing Democrats over the constitutionality of remote voting.
In a statement from his office, the retiring Republican said he had wanted to cast his vote by proxy for months, but agreed to wait until the GOP leadership’s lawsuit could be heard in court.
“Given the recent COVID-19 positive test results for my colleagues, including Louie Gohmert today, this method of voting is the prudent and rational course of action,” Rooney wrote.
Both chambers also require members to vote in smaller groups to limit the number of people on the floor and frequently sanitize podiums and microphones. The House’s rules, overall, go further than the Senate’s; McConnell opposes the use of proxy voting on the floor.
But unlike several state legislatures, members and staff are not required to have their temperatures checked before entering the sprawling Capitol complex, nor are they required to be tested for the virus. Even during the previous coronavirus lockdowns across the country, hundreds of people streamed in and out of congressional buildings daily.