The New York Times editorial board is calling on all members of Congress to be tested for the novel coronavirus, contending that far too many lawmakers are “ignoring public health advice for political reasons.”
The editorial board framed its Sunday piece around the recent diagnosis of Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who tested positive for the virus last week, prior to his plans to accompany President Trump on a trip to Texas. While some lawmakers are taking the risk of the virus seriously, others are “ignoring public health advice for political reasons, while others seem to believe the virus cannot touch them,” the editorial board argued, pointing to recent remarks from Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA), who has expressed skepticism over the ability of non-medical grade masks to stop the virus.
“Can you smell through that mask? Then you’re not stopping any sort of virus. It’s part of the dehumanization of the children of God. You’re participating in it by wearing a mask,” he told a CNN reporter in May.
“This sort of denial leads to unnecessary tragedy, as was driven home by the death of Herman Cain,” the editorial board continued, referencing the tragic death of the conservative firebrand and radio personality, who passed away on Thursday following a battle with the virus.
The Times pointed to Cain’s presence at Trump’s Tulsa rally, “where he was shown in a number of photos sitting close to other attendees without a mask.” However, Newsmax reported that the successful entrepreneur had been on a “whirlwind travel schedule in June, stopping in multiple cities” over the past several weeks, demonstrating that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint where he contracted the virus.
Nonetheless, the Times, while praising House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for tightening mask requirements on the Hill, believes the action “may not be enough,” contending that public officials have a duty to set an example and “to take extra precautions so they don’t become super spreaders.”
“For one thing, Mr. Gohmert’s experience has led to renewed calls by members and staff workers to implement a testing regimen on the Hill,” the editorial board wrote. “That’s an important next step”:
This spring, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, looked into a preliminary testing plan. One suggestion from the experts he consulted was to focus on members and staff members scheduled to participate in hearings or other meetings requiring prolonged contact with others. Likewise, Hill employees who face a higher risk of exposure probably ought to be prioritized.
Congress members are influential figures, and in this time of crisis they ought to be leading by example. By taking steps to protect themselves, their staff members and their constituents, lawmakers can send a signal about the seriousness of this situation to a confused and weary public.
Last week, Pelosi tightened rules on mask-wearing in the House, requiring a mask “at all times in the hall of the House” with an exception for House members who are recognized. In that case, they may temporarily remove their mask. Those who fail to adhere to the rules could face removal from the Sergeant at Arms, the speaker warned.
Notably, D.C. is under a stringent mask mandate, requiring those ages three and older to wear a mask in most indoor and outdoor settings. While Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) strict mandate contains standard exemptions, excluding those with medical conditions and allowing individuals to remove their masks while eating or drinking, it also exempts “on-duty” lawmakers and government employees.
The enforcement provisions of this Order shall not be applied to persons in the judicial or legislative branches of the District government while those persons are on duty; and shall not apply to any employees of the federal government while they are on duty.
Those 18 and older, who are not listed under the exceptions, can be subject to a fine up to $1,000.