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Leading GOP out in favour of masks wearing

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and President Trump in Washington on May 19. (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

1 Juli, 2020.

WASHINGTON — Leading Republicans are out in favour of mask-wearing in order to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 as the virus continues to spread in the US.

The move signals what could be a broader shift in what has become a partisan issue, much to the dismay of public health officials.

“We must have no stigma — none — about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday. 

McConnell explained that wearing a face mask is less an act of self-preservation than one of altruism, since the primary function of a face mask, respirator or cloth covering is to keep the wearer from spreading his or her own viral particles to others. “Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves. It is about protecting everyone we encounter,” McConnell said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was also in favour of mask-wearing. “They should wear a mask,” he said, though most Republicans in his chamber have pointedly refused to do so, in contravention of guidance from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That guidance, in turn, was based on the advice of the attending physician of the U.S. Capitol.

At least some of these messages appear to be intended to get the attention of President Trump, who has turned the notion of wearing a mask into yet another of his cultural confrontations.

It is no news that some of Trump’s most committed fellow culture warriors include Fox News host Sean Hannity, have broken ranks with the president. On Monday night, he came out in favour of masks.

“I went to my grocery store every week. Guess what? They wore masks. Nobody at my grocery store, thank God, got coronavirus,” Hannity said. “I think they work.” Studies of how viral particles travel through the air, and how different fabrics can stop those particles from traveling, confirm that assertion.

“Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy also came out in favor of maskson Tuesday. “I think that if the president wore one, it would just set a good example,” he said. “He’d be a good role model.”

The mask controversy has inevitably found its way to Capitol Hill, where supporters of the president, particularly in the more freewheeling House of Representatives, have steadfastly refused to wear face coverings. That has set up a confrontation with Democratic leadership, not to mention with senior Republicans such as McCarthy.

On Monday, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., issued a blunt warning to his Republican colleagues, informing them that they would not be permitted to attend in-person hearings unless they donned protective face coverings.

“Masks save lives,” Clyburn wrote in his letter, which was addressed to Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who sits on the coronavirus subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee (Clyburn is the subcommittee’s chair). The letter went on to say that legislators “who do not wish to wear a mask are welcome to participate remotely” but will not be allowed inside the congressional hearing room. 

Clyburn is the Democrats’ “whip” in the House, meaning that he is charged with the crucial task of keeping the party in line ahead of significant votes (Scalise has the same position in the GOP). The coronavirus subcommittee was created by Pelosi to monitor the federal response to the pandemic.

Speaking to Yahoo News several hours after that letter was issued, the senior Democrat said that he was disappointed in Republicans’ refusal to recognize basic scientific tenets. “To me, it shows disrespect and ill manners,” Clyburn said.

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