Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, questions Attorney General William Barr during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday. Matt McClain/The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican who has frequently walked around the Capitol without wearing a face mask or maintaining social distance from others, said Wednesday that he has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Gohmert had been scheduled to travel with President Trump aboard Air Force One to Texas on Wednesday but tested positive at the White House and did not join the trip.

The news has prompted senior lawmakers to reconsider their opposition to mandatory coronavirus testing for members of Congress, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the Trump administration is standing by to help if leaders on Capitol Hill agree on a plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Democrats Wednesday evening that she will be announcing a new mandatory mask policy for lawmakers on the House floor.

In a video that he appeared to have been recorded from his Capitol Hill office after his diagnosis, Gohmert said that he was tested twice at the White House and that both tests came back positive.

The 66-year-old lawmaker said he is asymptomatic and went on to make several statements filled with misinformation about the virus, such as suggesting that wearing a face mask increased his chances of contracting it – even though scientific studies have shown that face coverings help reduce the spread of the droplets that carry the pathogen.

“It is interesting, and I don’t know about everybody, but when I have a mask on, I’m moving it to make it comfortable, and I can’t help but wonder if that puts some germs in the mask,” Gohmert said in the video, in which he also used the racist phrase “Wuhan virus” to describe the coronavirus.

He added: “Keep your hands off your mask. But anyway, who knows. But now that I apparently have it, I will be very, very careful to make sure I don’t give it to anybody else, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Gohmert also said he had chatted by text message with Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who in March became the first member of the Senate to announce that he had tested positive for the virus.

“Rand Paul was just texting me that the good news is that in 10 days or so, I should be fairly well immune,” Gohmert declared.

Public health experts remain uncertain about whether recovered coronavirus patients are actually immune to the disease, however, and there are reports of some patients testing positive months after they were first diagnosed. Even after his return to the Senate, Paul, an ophthalmologist, refused to wear a face mask, telling reporters, “I have immunity.”

News of Gohmert’s diagnosis was first reported by Politico.

It was not immediately clear in what location Gohmert was planning to self-isolate. His office did not respond to requests for comment.

Gohmert is among the dozens of House members who sleep in their offices when in Washington, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, and some of his colleagues voiced concern Wednesday that the lawmaker may continue to do so even after contracting the coronavirus.

“Louie Gohmert lives and sleeps in his Capitol Hill office,” Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said in a tweet. “Now that he’s tested positive, he cannot be allowed to quarantine there. He’s put Members and staff at enough risk already. I wish you well, @replouiegohmert. But you need to figure out a better option.”

In the wake of Gohmert’s announcement, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, announced that she is self-quarantining “out of an abundance of caution” due to recent close contact with the congressman. Granger was seated next to Gohmert on a flight from Texas to Washington on Sunday night, Sarah Flaim, a spokeswoman for the 77-year-old Granger, said in a statement.

Several other members of Congress have also tested positive or are presumed to have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent months, including Reps. Morgan Griffith, R-Va.; Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y.; Joe Cunningham, D-S.C.; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.; Ben McAdams, D-Utah; Seth Moulton, D-Mass.; Mike Kelly, R-Pa.; and Tom Rice, R-S.C.

Because of the memorial services for the late congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., the full House has held only one roll call vote, at lunchtime Monday, over the past five days, so many lawmakers would not have been around the Texan in recent days.

Gohmert has typically worn a mask as required during House hearings, including during Tuesday’s nearly six-hour testimony by Attorney General William Barr before the House Judiciary Committee.

That session was held in a massive auditorium with lawmakers spaced out, and Gohmert appears to have adhered to the committee rules that one must wear a mask at all times unless it is his or her turn to speak.

But he has not always worn one or maintained social distance while walking around the Capitol. As they arrived at Tuesday’s hearing, Gohmert and Barr were walking near each other at one point, according to the Hill. Neither man was wearing a mask.

Barr will be tested Wednesday for the virus because of his proximity to Gohmert at the hearing, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

Soon after news of Gohmert’s diagnosis began making the rounds, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., criticized Gohmert and other Republicans who have declined to wear a mask, saying they were “showing no personal responsibility or consideration for others.”

Hoyer said Gohmert’s positive test should restart consideration for a mandatory testing program for all lawmakers, dozens of whom have been traveling back and forth this summer to states that are considered coronavirus hot spots.

“This is a moment where we ought to discuss it again,” Hoyer told reporters on a conference call, suggesting that he would discuss the matter with Pelosi and GOP leaders.

In the spring, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rejected an offer from the Trump administration to get the sort of tests that are now routine at the White House.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he has renewed his push to require regular coronavirus testing for members of Congress who travel, as well as testing for staffers “every couple of weeks or a month.”

Ultimately, Blunt said, any proposal will need to garner the support of McConnell and the Capitol physician.

“I think, particularly for members of Congress who are going back and forth, they represent sort of the perfect petri dish for how you spread a disease – you know, send 535 people out to … 535 different locations on about 1,000 different airplanes and bring them back and see what happens,” Blunt said. “It seems to me there’s a better path forward.”

Meadows, too, said Wednesday that he thinks it would be “prudent” for congressional leaders to agree to institute testing for members of Congress.

“If Leader McConnell and Speaker Pelosi look to that initiative, we’d be glad to help with that,” Meadows told reporters at the Capitol. “I just talked to (House Minority) Leader (Kevin) McCarthy and offered the availability of additional testing capacity, so that members can conduct their business, since they have to be here on a regular basis.”

Meadows added that “hopefully now that we’ve got our testing capabilities a lot more robust than they’ve ever been, they’ll take us up on that offer.”

In a brief exchange with reporters, McCarthy, R-Calif., confirmed that he and Meadows discussed testing. He also blamed Pelosi for previously rejecting the Trump administration’s offer to supply Capitol Hill with rapid coronavirus tests, even though McConnell joined the speaker in writing a joint letter in May declining the proposal.

“Testing would be critical, because people can be here and have it and you would not know,” said McCarthy, who referred to Gohmert as “Congressman Covid” before quickly correcting himself.

McConnell’s office declined to comment Wednesday on testing members of Congress. Pelosi made no comment about whether members would get any additional mandatory testing program, but on a call with Democrats, she said there would be a new mandatory mask policy for lawmakers going on the House floor, according to a Democrat on the call.

In a CNN interview in June, Gohmert defended his decision not to wear a mask at all times in the Capitol.

“I don’t have the coronavirus, turns out as of yesterday I’ve never had it. But if I get it, you’ll never see me without a mask,” he said.

In May, Gohmert was among about two dozen House Republicans who met with Trump at the White House without wearing masks.

“I do want to advise our media friends before they write stories about how we didn’t wear masks and we didn’t possibly socially distance adequately, that you saw to it that we had tests, and that nobody in here had the coronavirus unless it’s somebody in the media,” Gohmert said at the time.

“So the only reason we would wear masks is if we were trying to protect ourselves from you in the media. And we’re not scared of you. So that’s why we can be here like this,” he added.

In Wednesday’s video, Gohmert pushed back against the notion that he has been lax in wearing face coverings while on Capitol Hill.

“Look, I’ve worn a mask more the last week or two than I have in the whole last four months. And I was wearing my mask at the Judiciary hearing,” he said, adding that “a couple of the other guys weren’t wearing the mask.”

In a tweet earlier Wednesady, Gohmert’s chief of staff, Connie Hair, did not deny that the Texas Republican had tested positive but disputed that he had been walking around the Capitol without a mask.

Like Gohmert, Hair also appeared to suggest that the mask contributed to the congressman contracting the coronavirus.

“He was NOT admonished for not wearing a mask because he wore a mask at the hearing, unless he was speaking, and has been wearing one which ensures that you touch things and adjust the mask and whatever you might have touched stays on the mask to infect you,” Hair said of Gohmert.

Several Democrats on Wednesday urged their colleagues to take social distancing and the use of face coverings more seriously in light of the Gohmert news.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., the freshman congresswoman who flipped Northern Virginia’s 10th District in 2018, said that colleagues, including Gohmert, who refuse to wear a mask have been “reckless and selfish.” She said she has instructed her staff to continue working from home until it’s safe to return to the Capitol, especially given that not everyone is doing their part to mitigate the virus.

Told of Gohmert’s positive test, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., told reporters that too many Republicans followed Trump into the anti-mask movement solely for political reasons.

“I’m concerned about the irresponsible behavior of many of the Republicans, who have chosen to consistently flout well-established public health guidance, perhaps out of fealty to their boss, Donald Trump, who is the head of the anti-mask movement in America,” Jeffries, a member of the Democratic leadership, said Wednesday at his weekly news conference.

The Washington Post’s Rachael Bade, Erica Werner, Matt Zapotosky and Meagan Flynn contributed to this report.

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