On Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., Louie Gohmert took a trip to the White House with the intention of boarding Air Force One for a trip to west Texas with Trump. To do so, he had to pass through the standard, rapid-response coronavirus screening for anyone in the immediate vicinity of the president. But the Texas representative wouldn’t make it that far: He tested positive, twice.
The immediate concern wasn’t for the president — shielded from the congressman who often refused to wear a mask — but for his attorney general. On Tuesday, during William Barr’s testimony before the House Judiciary committee, Gohmert was seen speaking in close proximity with the AG, who is now being tested for COVID-19. (Neither were wearing masks during the exchange.) A fellow Texas representative, Republican Kay Granger, said she would also quarantine at the direction of Dr. Brian P. Monahan, Congress’s attending physician.
As members of Congress and support staff scrambled to isolate themselves and health officials began contact tracing to determine who the representative had come into contact with, an aide who spoke to Politico described a work environment in which all staffers, including interns, are required to come into Gohmert’s office, and are often “berated” for wearing masks. As the New York Times notes, this is not the norm on the hill: “Many lawmakers have directed staff aides to work from home, and instructed those who come in person to wear a mask at all times.”
Gohmert’s positive test represents the challenge that members of Congress face in the Capitol, which still does not have rapid testing after Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell declined the administration’s offer in May to administer the tests. It’s a challenge made even more troublesome by representatives, largely Republican, who decline to wear a mask in the building, despite the clear pandemic utility of a simple face covering. In an interview describing his positive test and lack of symptoms, Gohmert said he couldn’t “help but wonder if by keeping a mask on and keeping it in place, I might have put some germs — some virus — onto the mask and breathed it in.” As the representative who sleeps in his office faces the challenges of quarantining, he will also have to reckon with a comment from June, when he told CNN that if he contracted the virus, “you’ll never see me without a mask.”