Rep. Louie Gohmert’s positive coronavirus test has the potential to have far-reaching effects: from his contacts with fellow members and staffers to enhanced protective measures around the Capitol.
The Texas Republican, who turns 67 on Aug. 18, has frequently skipped wearing a mask around the Capitol complex, and his positive diagnosis is spurring calls from Democratic leaders to reconsider a testing mandate for lawmakers.
Gohmert had been scheduled to fly to Texas with President Donald Trump on Wednesday and was required to undergo a test.
“Too many Republicans have continued to act extraordinarily irresponsibly, including Louie Gohmert,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters on a press call Wednesday.
The Maryland Democrat said the Gohmert revelation should revive a discussion of whether members need to be tested before entering the Capitol.
“We’re not mandating testing at this point … but we’re discussing that,” he said. “We have discussed it in the past. This is a moment where we ought to be discussing it again.”
Hoyer said the news about Gohmert, who was present at Tuesday’s House Judiciary hearing, supports the Democrats’ advocacy and use of proxy voting, which House Republicans have strongly opposed.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and many other Republicans filed a lawsuit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi to block the practice of voting by proxy.
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in May refused White House help to implement a testing regime for members, saying the resources should be allocated to hospitals and other places on the front line. Neither offered any indications Wednesday that their position on testing had changed.
“Oh, I’m so sorry for him,” Pelosi said of Gohmert. “But I’m also sorry my members are concerned because he’s been showing up to his meetings without a mask and making a thing of it. So hopefully now he’ll look after his health and others’.”
Pelosi later announced on the floor that “members and staff will be required to wear masks at all times in the Hall of the House.” And although lawmakers may remove their masks temporarily when recognized to speak, they “will not be able to enter without a mask,” the California Democrat said.
Not wearing a mask would be “a serious breach of decorum,” Pelosi said, noting that as speaker, she has the authority to direct the sergeant-at-arms to remove a member.
Members in quarantine
Gohmert was among a handful of Republicans at Tuesday’s hourslong Judiciary Committee hearing who did not keep a mask on. Attorney General William Barr, the hearing’s witness, has reportedly taken a test due to his proximity to those members and Gohmert.
Texas Republican Kay Granger, who sat next to Gohmert on a Sunday flight from Texas to Washington, announced she would be self-quarantining, as did Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva who shared space with Gohmert at a Tuesday hearing at the Natural Resources Committee, which the Arizona Democrat chairs.
“I’m self-quarantining until I take a test and then again until results are in. In the meantime, my work schedule and the lives of my employees are disrupted. This stems from a selfish act by Mr. Gohmert, who is just one member of Congress,” Grijalva said.
The coronavirus is not just affecting members of Congress: At least 81 front-line workers in the Capitol complex had tested positive — or were presumed positive — for COVID-19, as of July 21.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called for more coronavirus testing on Capitol Hill and said he has talked with McConnell and Attending Physician Brian P. Monahan.
“I suggested to the leader several weeks ago that I thought we all should be tested when we go home so that we’re not carriers coming back and forth,” the Tennessee Republican said. “And I’ve talked to Monahan, who said tests are more available today than they were. I haven’t asked about that lately.”
Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt also said he wants more testing on Capitol Hill.
“I’ve been advocating for a couple months that we test everybody and start with people who are traveling and I haven’t been able to get that accomplished yet,” the Missouri Republican said. “But I launched another suggestion today that there’s a way we can do this, and we should be doing it.”
Ultimately, McConnell and Monahan have to be supportive of such a measure, Blunt said. “Particularly for members of Congress who are going back and forth, they represent the perfect petri dish for how you spread a disease,” he added. “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.”
The House Administration Committee’s Republican staff tweeted Wednesday that ranking member Rodney Davis of Illinois “had been urging the majority for months to implement a testing plan for not only members, but essential workers.”
McCarthy has also proposed testing members of Congress, proposing back in April that “our ongoing and iterative testing regime should be scaled as test availability increases nationwide. This plan should progress to incorporate asymptomatic randomized testing, and eventually, FDA authorized rapid antigen tests.”
In an interview with East Texas NBC affiliate KETK News, Gohmert recounted his experience. “The quick test was positive. ... They did the one where they stick the swab way back up in your sinuses and anyway that one came back, it takes a little longer to get the answer, but it was positive,” he said, adding, “I didn’t have any of the symptoms that you see listed for the coronavirus.”
Gohmert continued: “The doctors at the White House and the attending physician here at the Capitol say you got to self-quarantine for 10 days once you actually test positive for it so that’s what I’ll need to do.”
That brought up the question of where Gohmert would quarantine. He is among the members of Congress who sleep in their offices, but since that office is a workplace, that might not be an option. Several members expressed concern about him doing so. Later in the day, he told Sean Hannity of Fox News that he would be leaving for Texas to quarantine and would not be taking a plane or train.
The District of Columbia government recently required people traveling from pandemic hot spots like Texas to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Washington. But that does not apply to members of Congress, as Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser explained to CNN on Monday.
“They are doing government work. And while they’re doing their government activities, they would not be subject to a 14-day quarantine. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t want people to be mindful of their activities,” she said.
Despite the diagnosis, Gohmert continued to question whether wearing a mask prevents spread of the virus, which puts him at odds with medical and scientific consensus.
“I can’t help but wonder if by keeping a mask on and keeping it in place that if I might have put some germs, some of the virus onto the mask and breathed it in. I don’t know, but I got it,” he told KETK News. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically says cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when widely used.
Katherine Tully-McManus, Lindsey McPherson, Benjamin J. Hulac, Doug Sword, Jennifer Shutt and Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.