Senators clash over masks on Senate floor

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The nation’s divide over mask-wearing exploded on the Senate floor on Monday evening.

As he took the floor to rail against Federal Reserve nominee Judith Shelton, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) first took aim at Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who was presiding over the Senate on Monday evening. Before he began his remarks on Shelton, Brown said: “I start by asking the presiding officer to wear a mask.”

“I don’t wear a mask when I’m speaking,” Sullivan retorted, a rare response from the senator presiding over the Senate. “I don’t need your instruction.”

Brown said the moment was emblematic of a Senate where “there isn’t much interest … in public health.”

“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,” said Brown, referring to potentially spreading the coronavirus to staffers. “The majority leader just doesn’t seem to care.”

The moment was a rare public disagreement over the way the Senate is being run during the pandemic. Though Democrats have complained about the Senate’s agenda, they’ve rarely publicly criticized members of the GOP over masks in such a direct fashion. Several senators have contracted the virus over the past eight months, though the Senate has not been the venue for mass spread of the disease so far.

Most senators wear masks throughout the Capitol, although some members do occasionally take their masks off or forget to put them back on. After Brown’s speech, Sullivan took off his mask to adjourn the Senate, then promptly put it back on.

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