As Grassley Tests Positive for Coronavirus, Virus Threatens to Stall Work in Congress

Several Republicans, including lawmakers who have had Covid-19, continue to resist wearing masks elsewhere in the Capitol, and a nasty spat broke out about the practice on Monday on the normally decorous Senate floor.

Late last week, House Democratic leaders abruptly transformed an elaborate dinner in Statuary Hall for their new members into a grab-and-go meal after facing a backlash online and internally for hosting such an event when most Americans are being warned to curtail or cancel holiday plans. And during orientation for new lawmakers — which had already been largely subdued because of the virus — Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon-backing Republican, proudly announced in the middle of a discussion of pandemic safety that she had denounced face coverings.

It is a dynamic that bodes poorly for attendance in the waning days of the 116th Congress. On Tuesday, the absence of Mr. Grassley and Mr. Scott temporarily stalled the confirmation of Judy Shelton, Mr. Trump’s Fed nominee, after Republicans fell short of the support necessary to advance to a final vote.

“There’s this kind of macho, ‘Well, I’m not afraid of Covid’ thing going on,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, who has one of the longest congressional commutes and has instructed his entire staff to work remotely. “We have to run the government — that’s our obligation. Our obligation is not to show that we’re personally unafraid, because we have to pass legislation to address this crisis, and we’re no good to anybody if we’re sick or quarantining.”

The partisan divisions were further underscored by a tense exchange on Monday evening between Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, and Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, while Mr. Sullivan was presiding over the chamber.

When Mr. Brown rose to speak, he asked Mr. Sullivan, whose mask was off and lying on the desk in front of him, to “please wear a mask,” in part to protect the staff members required to sit on the dais just below, at a distance closer than the six feet recommended for proper distancing.

“I don’t wear a mask when I’m speaking, like most senators,” shot back Mr. Sullivan, who wears a mask around the Capitol but removes it to speak on the floor. “I don’t need your instruction.”