After every single Republican on the coronavirus subcommittee turned up to a Friday meeting without wearing a mask, the Democratic chair has threatened to stop them from speaking at future meetings if they fail to do so again.
Not wearing a mask in a confined space such as a committee hearing room violates rules written by Congress’s attending physician, if attendees intend to be in the space for more than 15 minutes.
Representative Jim Clyburn who chairs the coronavirus subcommittee meetings released a letter on Monday morning, expressing his “profound disappointment” at this rule being flouted at a time when the “United States reached the highest number of new coronavirus cases on record, and after the disease has already killed more people in the United States than in any other nation on Earth”.
Clyburn said he reminded attendees in person of that requirement and that posters outside the committee room also flagged the issue. The refusal to wear face coverings has raged across America. The president himself refuses to wear a mask. Meanwhile, a small number of Americans have objected to official guidance on wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces, arguing that it impinges on their constitutional freedoms. According to the Poynter institute, there is no constitutional right that allows people not to wear a mask.
“My Republican colleagues’ refusal to wear masks is perplexing because you have asked repeatedly to hold in-person hearings, and you assured me that this could be done safely,” Clyburn wrote in a letter addressed to Steve Scalise, the ranking Republican on the committee. “Unfortunately, the Republican Members’ refusal to wear masks undermined the safety of everyone in the hearing room,” he said.
Clyburn, in his role as chair of the committee, has to formally acknowledge a member before they can speak or participate in the meeting.
In his letter, he has threatened not to recognize any members of the committee who try to speak without wearing a mask in the meeting.
Scalise said in the meeting on Friday that he saw mask-wearing as an additional precaution, rather than a necessary requirement.
“There are guidelines out there for how to properly social distance and we’re following those. And again, I understand doctors might look at things differently and want to give even extra precautions, but the precautions that have been out there are clearly being followed,” he said.
He added that representatives have complied with social distancing rules and did not want to hurt anybody.
“None of us would want to put anybody else in harm’s way. It’s why the House has been having votes on the House floor safely, properly, with social distancing, with the necessary supplies to make sure we can wipe down spaces,” Scalise said.
Clyburn said that members who do not want to wear masks to meetings could also participate virtually in future meetings, in which case, he would be willing to let them speak.