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Following Gohmert news, GOP staffers share unsettling experiences

After Gohmert tested positive for the coronavirus, one of his aides described health hazards in his office. Then a series of other GOP aides stepped up.
Image: Louie Gohmert
Republican Representative from Texas Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, delivers remarks during the House Judiciary Committee's markup of House Resolution 755, Articles of Impeachment Against President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Dec. 11, 2019.Shawn Thew / Pool via AFP - Getty Images file

Quite a few members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus, but due to the larger political context, some announcements generate a bit more news than others.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who has refused to wear a mask, tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday shortly before he was expected to travel with President Donald Trump to Texas. Gohmert, 66, one of the most outspokenly conservative members of Congress, said he tested positive during the routine screening at the White House prior to boarding Air Force One and blamed his infection on the fact that he had begun to wear a mask more frequently in recent days.

The far-right Texan wasn't displaying symptoms. If he weren't scheduled to be with the president yesterday, it's quite likely that Gohmert wouldn't have known that he'd contracted the virus. It's also likely that he would've returned to Capitol Hill and continued to interact with others -- lawmakers, executive-branch officials, journalists, et al. -- without taking any meaningful precautions.

But there's one specific group of people who were at particular risk: the Republican congressman's aides, who learned about Gohmert testing positive when he told them, in person, yesterday.

As unsettling as those developments were, they took an even more striking turn when a staffer in the Texan's congressional office reached out to Politico to note that Gohmert has required a full staff -- with interns -- to work in his Capitol Hill office during the pandemic in order to be "an example to America."

The same unnamed staff added that in Gohmert's office, aides have been "berated for wearing masks."

When Politico's Jake Sherman noted this on Twitter, it apparently sparked "a flood of emails from Republican staffers who say they too are being forced to come to the Hill without a mask."

Evidently, at this point in the crisis, there's an amazing number of people who "feel unsafe and uncomfortable" working for members of Congress. A scheduler for one House Republican, for example, said mask-wearing in the office is "not encouraged," adding those who take the precaution have been "derided on several occasions by the [chief of staff] and the member” of Congress.

Another Republican aide said, "Ridiculing people for wearing masks is also not uncommon." The person added that the GOP's "anti-mask brigade" appears to be "forcing staff to report to work even if they have legitimate concerns about their health."

This isn't exactly surprising, though part of me hoped that congressional Republicans might engage in ugly posturing for the cameras, but behind the scenes, they'd at least want to look out for the well-being of their own teams. That's apparently not the case.

That said, yesterday's developments have apparently produced meaningful changes, including new mask requirements announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Capitol officials.

Pelosi announced Wednesday evening that all members will be required to wear a mask when voting on the House floor and that one will be provided if anyone forgets. Several hours later, the House sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol's top physician issued an order requiring masks inside House office buildings, with few exceptions.

This new policy took effect this morning.