Congressman dons coffee filter mask for ‘strange and surreal’ House session

Don Beyer became the second masked man in a week to hold the gavel

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Posted April 10, 2020 at 12:53pm

“The House will be in order,” said Rep. Don Beyer, projecting his voice more forcefully than usual. He had to; he was wearing a homemade face mask, pulled up so far over the bridge of his nose that it almost brushed the tips of his eyelashes.

When the Virginia Democrat stepped onto the dais Friday, he came prepared. As he gaveled in a pro forma session of the House — a quick formality to keep things going while members are scattered in their districts — he made an unspoken case for homecrafters everywhere.

The mask was made by his daughter, who is staying with him during the coronavirus pandemic, Beyer told Heard on the Hill. “She found the pattern online and liked this design best because it seemed to offer the most protection,” the congressman said. She also made one for her mom.

The mask has coffee filters inside, a household staple now pulling double duty as a layer of protection. It’s a technique promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which began recommending face coverings last week for anyone going out in public. That guidance could take some getting used to, not just for Donald Trump — who has said he won’t wear one himself — but also for Congress.

“It was strange and surreal,” Beyer told Heard on the Hill later in the day. “The mask really muffles your voice, so you have to speak up to make sure it gets picked up.”

After fiddling with the mask a bit as he spoke into the microphone, he pounded the gavel again, using a gloved hand. The House was adjourned. It was the second time that week a masked man had chaired a session, after Rep. Brad Sherman led Tuesday’s pro forma wearing a face covering of his own.

Those images were striking enough, even with the chambers nearly empty. It could be a preview of things to come whenever members return to Washington: Lawmakers shout-talking and over-enunciating, conducting the business of the day from behind impromptu pieces of fabric, slightly askew.