Partisan spat over face mask erupts on Senate floor

A debate over following the rules about wearing a mask on the Senate floor during the coronavirus pandemic exploded into an ugly partisan spat Monday.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), speaking in the Senate chamber, noticed that Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who presided over the meeting from the podium, wasn’t wearing a face covering.

“Please wear a mask,” Brown asked Sullivan.

Sullivan was irked by the request and cut Brown off.

“I don’t wear a mask when I’m speaking, like most senators,” said Sullivan, his red, white and blue mask sitting on his desk.

“I don’t need your instructions,” huffed Sullivan.

The snippy exchange between the senators went viral on Twitter in a clip viewed more than 1.8 million times by Tuesday morning, the Washington Post reported.

Brown claimed the incident showed a lack of concern about spreading the virus among GOP senators.

“Once again, I asked my Republican colleagues to stop endangering all the Senate workers — and simply wear a mask when presiding over the Senate,” he tweeted with a link to the video. “Once again, they refused.”

But some GOP senators accused Brown of fear-mongering.

“This is idiotic. @SherrodBrown is being a complete ass,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted.

Cruz said Sullivan was more than 50 feet away from Brown.

“He wears a mask to speak — when nobody is remotely near him — as an ostentatious sign of fake virtue,” Cruz said.

Debate over coronavirus safety protocols — and when to abide by them –has been an ongoing concern inside Congress as well as society at large.

Sherrod Brown (left) and Dan Sullivan
Sherrod Brown (left) and Dan Sullivan

Congressional leaders, for example, could not agree on how to rapidly test members and even on what type of thermometer to use, the Washington Post earlier reported.

Masks are mandatory on the House floor, but only recommended in the Senate, despite concerns about the spread of the virus indoors.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a doctor by trade, became the first senator to test positive for the coronavirus in March.

Most senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have worn masks during the pandemic. The Capitol’s physician advised senators to wear and those who don’t should maintain six feet distance from others.

But there are refuseniks — Paul among them.

Paul claims he is “immune” to COVID-19 after catching the virus in the spring.

In Monday’s exchange, after Sullivan refused to put on a mask while speaking, Brown said the incident was proof “there isn’t much interest in public health” at the Senate.

“We have a majority leader who calls us back here to vote on an unqualified nominee and, at the same time, to vote for judge after judge after judge, exposing all the people who can’t say anything … and expose all the staff here.” Brown said in the video clip. “The majority leader just doesn’t seem to care.”

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