U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, is not the first member of Congress to test positive for the coronavirus. At least 14 lawmakers, hailing from both parties and both chambers, are known to have either tested or been presumed positive for the coronavirus.
But something about the diagnosis of Gohmert, who has belligerently flouted public health recommendations such as mask wearing and social distancing, prompted a convulsion of rage on Capitol Hill.
From maintenance workers to legislative aides, employees came forward with anonymous accounts of how the patchwork of precautions — each lawmaker’s office operates with its own rules — and cavalier behavior by some members was endangering the thousands of people who keep the Capitol complex running. In addition to the lawmakers and members of their staff who have been infected, around 90 workers in support roles such as the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol, are known to have contracted the virus.
Many lawmakers are approaching the pandemic with appropriate seriousness: running skeleton crews in their offices, encouraging masks and following social distancing guidelines. Others are not. Some are ignoring public health advice for political reasons, while others seem to believe the virus cannot touch them. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., told CNN that wearing a mask was “part of the dehumanization of the children of God.”
This sort of denial leads to unnecessary tragedy, as was driven home by the death of Herman Cain. The former pizza magnate and Republican presidential candidate tested positive for the coronavirus nine days after attending President Donald Trump’s June 20 campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla. — where he was shown in a number of photos sitting close to other attendees without a mask.
Elected officials have a particular responsibility both to model responsible behavior during this pandemic and to take extra precautions so they don’t become super spreaders.
The danger extends far beyond Capitol Hill. Members of Congress have an essential and unusually public, mobile job. In any given week, hundreds of members jet back and forth across the country, some to coronavirus hot spots.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, is currently self-quarantining after sitting next to a non-masked Gohmert on a flight back to Washington from their home state of Texas on July 26. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., has been self-quarantining as well, after chairing a hearing on July 28 that Gohmert attended, at times unmasked. On Saturday, Grijalva announced that he had tested positive for the virus. Who knows how many other people Gohmert may have potentially exposed?
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES