A Republican lawmaker who made a habit of walking around Congress without a mask tested positive for the novel coronavirus Wednesday as he prepared to leave for his native Texas with President Donald Trump.
Louie Gohmert announced his diagnosis a day after attending a major hearing featuring testimony from Attorney General Bill Barr, with whom he was seen walking and chatting at a close distance while neither wore a mask.
The news angered House Democrats and prompted Speaker Nancy Pelosi to order the wearing of masks on the chamber floor — with punishment of removal for anyone disobeying.
Gohmert, 66, said he was asymptomatic and downplayed his diagnosis.
He has worn a mask sporadically in recent weeks, and suggested Wednesday that moving it around on his face because it is uncomfortable “puts some germs in the mask” and maybe this caused his infection.
Even as the pandemic has raged in the United States, Trump steadfastly ignored recommendations from US medical experts that people wear masks to help curb the spread of the virus and he did not wear one in public until July 11.
Since then, Republican lawmakers who shunned masks have begun to wear them more regularly. But to wear or not wear a mask remains a political flashpoint in the country.
Gohmert was tested Wednesday at the White House because he was supposed to accompany Trump on a visit to Texas.
“So I’m asymptomatic, I don’t have any of the symptoms that are listed as part of COVID-19, but apparently I have the Wuhan virus,” Gohmert said in a video using a term that angers China.
Gohmert said he has worn the mask more in the last week or two than in all of the past four months, and did so during Tuesday’s hearing with Barr.
But he took it off a few times and was seen walking and talking with Barr before the hearing.
“Wear a damn mask,” said Democratic representative Jennifer Wexton from Virginia.
“I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if you’re a Member of Congress who refuses to wear a mask on Capitol Hill, you’re not only putting your colleagues at risk — you’re endangering the staff who works here, including many of my constituents,” she said.
© Agence France-Presse
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