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Senators clash over coronavirus mask protocol: ‘There clearly isn’t much interest in this body in public health’

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown on the Senate floor on Monday evening.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown on the Senate floor on Monday evening.CSPAN

In an exchange that went viral Monday night, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown took to the Senate floor, with his opening remark being not a political statement, but a request asked of his colleague, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan. “I’d start by asking the presiding officer to please wear a mask as he speaks.”

Brown, a Democrat, acknowledged that he didn’t have the power to tell his Republican colleague “what to do” in regard to adhering to the coronavirus safety measure before he was interrupted by Sullivan.

“I don’t wear a mask when I’m speaking like most senators,” Sullivan tersely responded. “I don’t need your instruction.”

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The rift, emblematic of the nation’s deep divides over how to best respond to the coronavirus pandemic — even as cases surge at alarming rates nationwide — continued, with Brown offering a bleak assessment of the overall situation.

“I know you don’t need my instruction, but there clearly isn’t much interest in this body in public health,” Brown retorted.

Brown continued, taking aim at President Trump’s response to the public health crisis and the actions of GOP senators.

“We have a president who hasn’t shown up at the coronavirus task force meeting in months,” Brown said. “We have a majority leader [Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell] that 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, I understand, the people in front of you and the presiding officer and expose all the staff here.”

At least one person is shown in the clip standing in front of Sullivan’s chair during the incident.

Brown added: “The majority leader just doesn’t seem to care.”

Admiral Brett Giroir, a physician and member of the White House coronavirus task force, confirmed reports that Trump had not attended a meeting in at least five months while appearing on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, saying “that’s true.”

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“I’m not concerned that the president doesn’t attend — the vice president is there,” he said.

President-elect Joe Biden Monday warned of dire consequences if President Trump and his administration continue to delay a peaceful transfer of power. The White House has refused to coordinate with Biden and his transition team on the coronavirus pandemic, and have blocked the incoming president from attending briefings on national security issues and vaccine plans.

“More people may die if we don’t coordinate,” Biden said during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware.

While speaking on the floor, Brown addressed the results of the presidential election.

“The American people sent a clear message in this election. They voted for stability,” Brown said. “They rejected an administration that has failed them in the middle of a public health crisis and an economic crisis. People want a government that works for them and is on their side.”

Biden has already assembled a coronavirus task force made up of physicians and health experts, and he outlined his plan to ease economic inequity amid the pandemic Monday.

Mask-wearing orders have been a divisive issue throughout the pandemic. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said in a scientific brief that a cloth mask may also protect the individual wearing it, and not just those around them. And the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has also said that a lockdown can be prevented if people double down on both social distancing and wearing masks.

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Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.