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Rep. Gohmert tests positive for COVID before planned trip with Trump

House orders broad mask mandates
Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 10:17 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2020 at 9:53 PM CDT
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(Gray News) - GOP Rep. Louis Gohmert tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday, one day after attending a House hearing with Attorney General Bill Barr.

Gohmert, R-Texas, did not wear a mask for part of the judiciary committee hearing Tuesday. Politico first reported the positive test.

He was tested in a pre-screening at the White House before a scheduled trip to his home state with President Donald Trump. In an interview with Gray station KLTV, Gohmert said he was not experiencing any symptoms.

“If I hadn’t been going with the president, since I don’t feel badly, I would never have known unless I become very symptomatic after this,” he said.

He told KLTV he plans to drive home and isolate there.

After the diagnosis, Gohmert returned to his Washington office to tell staff, ABC News reported.

Gohmert told CNN in June that he was not wearing a mask because he was regularly tested for COVID-19.

He added that if he gets the virus, "you'll never see me without a mask."

The Hill reporter Olivia Beavers shared video Wednesday showing Gohmert and Barr close to each other in the Capitol halls, both without masks. She said the two exchanged “a comment or two” before the hearing.

He is at least the 10th member of Congress known to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The congressman's positive test raised further questions about the lack of mask and testing requirements in the Capitol as members frequently fly back and forth from their hometowns and gather for votes, hearings and news conferences. Several GOP senators said they were pushing for more regular testing in the Capitol.

“I think particularly for members of Congress who are going back and forth, they represent sort of the perfect petri dish for how you spread a disease,” said GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. “You send 535 people out to 535 different locations, on about 1,000 different airplanes, and bring them back and see what happens. It seems to me there’s a better path forward.”

Gohmert also voted on the House floor Tuesday and attended a House Natural Resources Committee hearing, where a staff member could be seen sitting close behind him on the dais as he talked without a mask. When he flew to Washington from Texas on Sunday, Gohmert sat next to Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who went into quarantine after learning of her colleague’s test results.

Mask-wearing is strongly encouraged but not enforced for lawmakers in the Capitol, while other workers and law enforcement officers are required to have on masks. There is no required testing, and lawmakers, reporters and staff often ignore health authorities' advice to stay several feet apart.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Capitol officials issued broad new mask requirements Wednesday after a Republican member of Congress tested positive for the coronavirus. The member, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, often shunned wearing masks and was known to vote without one.

Pelosi announced Wednesday evening that all members will be required to wear a mask when voting on the House floor and that one will be provided if anyone forgets. Several hours later, the House sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol's top physician issued an order requiring masks inside House office buildings, with few exceptions. That mandate goes into effect at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Pelosi said failure to wear a mask on the House floor is a “serious breach of decorum” for which members could be removed from the chamber. Members will be able to temporarily remove them while speaking, however. In the House office buildings, people can remove them to eat, drink and give interviews, among a few other specific situations.

“It’s a sign of respect for the health, safety and well-being of others present in the chamber and in surrounding areas,” Pelosi said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has also pushed the use of masks, and most senators have worn them. But a few have refused, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a doctor who says it's unnecessary because he previously tested positive for the virus. There is no proven science saying that a person cannot get the virus again.

Gohmert, who has questioned mask use for months, also went as far as to say that wearing a mask may have been how he contracted the virus. Medical experts say masks are one of the best ways to prevent transmission of the virus, which is thought to mainly spread through people who are in close contact.

After Gohmert tested positive, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Barr would be tested Wednesday. Gohmert did not wear a mask while questioning Barr, but the seats in the hearing room are spaced many feet away from each other and it is common practice to remove masks during questioning.

During the hearing with Barr, the committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chastised some of Gohmert’s GOP colleagues for not wearing masks when they weren’t speaking. Nadler did not call out Gohmert by name.

In a tweet Wednesday, Nadler said: “When individuals refuse to take the necessary precautions it puts everyone at risk. I’ve regularly instructed all members to wear their masks and hope this is a lesson by all my colleagues.”

Another committee Democrat, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, tweeted that lawmakers should “wear a damn mask!”

“It’s not a joke, not a conspiracy theory, not a game,” Jayapal said. “It’s serious—it’s public health & science. By refusing to consistently wear a mask, Rep. Gohmert & other Republican colleagues have not only put us in harm’s way but our staff, families, Capitol workers too.”

Multiple GOP senators said Wednesday they were pushing McConnell to allow expanded testing. McConnell and Pelosi jointly rejected Trump's offer for rapid testing for lawmakers in May, saying they wanted to instead direct resources to front-line workers.

That decision has rankled some of their colleagues, including Blunt and Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Blunt said he believes that lawmakers who are traveling should be tested every time they travel, and that staff and others should be tested occasionally. Still, he said McConnell and the Capitol physician would have to be on board for that to happen, and he doesn't know why they aren't.

“I think it’s very doable,” Blunt said.

Copyright 2020 Gray Media Group, Inc. Associated Press contributed to the report. All rights reserved.

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