Brown, who wore a mask as he spoke, said, “I’d start by asking the presiding officer to please wear a mask as he speaks.” Sullivan, who was not wearing a mask, responded tersely, “I don’t wear a mask when I’m speaking, like most senators, I don’t need your instruction.”
The Texas Republican went on to say that Sullivan was “over 50 feet away” from his fellow senator, adding “last I checked 50 feet is more than 6 feet.” However, Cruz’s tweet was misleading, as Brown seemed to be referring to the staffers who were just a few feet away from Sullivan while he was maskless.
Brown made clear during a press call with reporters on Tuesday that he was expressing concern for Senate staff who must work on the floor, often nearby to where the presiding officer is seated.
“Mitch McConnell has called senators back where all the staff has to come down to the Senate floor and be exposed. They have no choice, they lose their jobs or they come to work, like most of America,” Brown said.
Of the confrontation with Sullivan, Brown said, “He was inches away from four people who had masks on, but couldn’t protect themselves from him.”
“I don’t care what they say to me. I care about public health. It’s clear that McConnell and some of my Senate colleagues, like Ted Cruz, care nothing about essential workers,” Brown said.
The series of events marks the latest flare-up on Capitol Hill over mask wearing and comes amid a deadly nationwide surge in coronavirus cases. A number of members of Congress have either tested positive or gone into quarantine following Covid-19 exposure in recent days.
Grassley, who as president pro tempore is the most senior Republican in the chamber, is 87 years old, putting him at a vulnerable age for contracting the virus. The Iowa Republican spoke on the Senate floor on Monday and was seen at the Capitol speaking to reporters Monday afternoon.
In his comments directed at Sullivan on the Senate floor, the Ohio Democrat pointed out that there are “people below him,” as he speaks.
He went on to say, “there clearly isn’t much interest in this body in public health.”
Since the pandemic has begun, there have been many occasions during which senators do not appear to be adequately socially distant on the Senate floor, especially during votes.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CNN’s Ali Main and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.