House Dems consider requiring face masks at Capitol

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House Democratic leaders are considering mandating that members wear face masks at the Capitol during floor proceedings to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already put in a requirement for face masks to be worn at in-person committee hearings, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer confirmed Tuesday they are considering expanding the mandate to the House chamber.

"Yes, there has been consideration to that and there's been discussion about that," Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday. "The speaker and I have discussed it."

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Since the pandemic broke out, the House has taken extraordinary measures to enact social distancing and cut down lawmakers' travel. Members have closed offices so staff can work remotely. Committee hearings have been conducted through video conference, and House Democrats passed remote proxy voting to limit the number of people required in Washington, D.C.

House leadership enacted the mask requirement first in committee rooms, since they are smaller and social distancing is harder. During votes, lawmakers enter the House chamber in small alphabetical batches to cut down on the number of people on the floor. Masks are currently recommended but not required.

"The strongest recommendation that we can make is that members wear masks on the floor," Hoyer said. "Let me say this: Masks are not for the protection of the individual who is wearing the mask. This is not a personal decision that 'I don't care. I'm tough'... The masks are to protect others."

Hoyer said for members to "arrogantly" ignore the mask recommendation is a sign they are being "very, very inconsiderate of others."

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Mask wearing has evolved during the pandemic and has also become a political issue. At first, Trump administration health experts advised against everyone wearing a mask, in part, due to the shortage of supplies for medical professionals and essential workers. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends face coverings in public where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

But President Trump has declined to wear one in public, prompting Pelosi to call him out. "Real men wear masks," she said at a news conference on June 11. Trump's mask stance has trickled down to other Republicans. At Trump's indoor rally in Tulsa, Okla. Saturday, many Trump supporters did not wear face coverings.

Hoyer said he talked to GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., about urging his Republican members to wear a mask and protecting the health of their colleagues.

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It's unclear if Pelosi would need to call a vote on the House floor to require the use of masks, but Hoyer said if it comes to that, "we would win."