Following reports that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) tested positive for the novel COVID-19 coronavirus, one of the lawmaker’s aides contacted Politico journalist Jake Sherman via email saying that the Texas Congressman repeatedly ‘berated’ staffers for wearing masks in the office. Less than an hour after Sherman posted a tweet with the text of the aide’s email, he said he had received a “flood” of additional emails from other GOP staffers making similar claims.
“Jake, thank you for letting our office know Louie tested positive for the Coronavirus,” the email from Gohmert’s aide read. “When you write your story, can you include the fact that Louie requires full staff to be in the office, including three interns, so that ‘we could be an example to America on how to open up safely.’ When probing the office, you might want to ask how often were people berated for wearing masks.”
Sherman’s tweet must have been widely viewed by congressional staffers, because he soon followed up his initial post with a tweet claiming that he’d been contacted by several different Republican aides making similar claims.
“Ever since PM came out, I’ve gotten a flood of emails from republican staffers who say they too are being forced to come to the hill without a mask now,” he wrote, urging any additional employees to message him as well.
Gohmert, who has been virulently anti-mask since the start of the pandemic, on Wednesday also released a video in which he claimed that wearing a mask may have actually been the cause of him contracting the virus.
“I can’t help but wonder if by keeping a mask on – keeping it in place – if I might’ve got some germ, some of the virus, on the mask and breathed it in,” Gohmert said.
Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday referred to Gohmert as “Congressman COVID.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser last week issued an executive order making masks mandatory for persons in places — such as offices or hotel lobbies — where social distancing isn’t possible. However, the order does not apply to “any employees of the federal government while they are on duty,” which includes President Donald Trump and Congress.
But even for members of Congress, actively endangering employees by forcing them not to wear a mask for political reasons could land lawmakers in hot water politically — and maybe even legally.
National security attorney Mark Zaid, who previously represented the Ukraine whistleblower, responded to Sherman’s tweet by saying that his firm would offer free representation to any staffers who feared speaking out about mask bans.
“Congressional staff have minimal #whistleblower protections, as Congress shortsightedly imposes obligations on others rather than itself, but my firm is willing to rep pro bono (FREE) any staffer – GOP or DEM – who needs assistance, incl talking to media,” Zaid wrote.
“Lives are at stake,” he added.
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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