Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tx., on Monday called Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a "complete ass" who wears a mask "as an ostentatious sign of fake virtue." Cruz fired off the heated rhetoric after Brown asked another Republican colleague to put on a face covering.
"I don't wear a mask when I'm speaking like most senators," Sullivan shot back. "I don't need your instruction."
"I know you don't need my instruction, but there clearly isn't much interest in this body in public health," Brown responded, adding that senators who refuse to take public health precautions were "exposing" staffers in the building.
"We have a majority leader that calls us back here to vote on an unqualified nominee, and at the same time, to vote for judge after judge after judge," Brown added. "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 — and the majority leader just doesn't seem to care."
A CSPAN video of the exchange, which showed a staffer directly in front of Sullivan, went viral on Monday, accruing more than 836,000 views by Tuesday afternoon.
Cruz tweeted his response alongside the video: "This is idiotic. Sherrod Brown is being a complete ass. He wears a mask to speak — when nobody is remotely near him — as an ostentatious sign of fake virtue. Dan Sullivan was over 50 feet away, presiding. Last I checked 50 feet is more than 6 feet."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who at 87 years old is the second oldest U.S. senator, announced the following day that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He had also been on the Senate floor on Monday.
Cruz was called out in July for not wearing a mask on an American Airlines flight, in violation of company policy. Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, called it a "horrifying disregard of the lives of others." COVID-19 cases were surging at the time in the Republican's home state of Texas, and deaths in the state hit a high a few weeks after the flight.
After a White House ceremony for the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett in late September, three Republican senators tested positive: Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
The New York Times noted that "many top Republicans attended" that ceremony "without masks or social distancing, raising concerns that others might have contracted the virus but had not yet been diagnosed."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines advise Americans to keep a distance of at least 6 feet between themselves and others in order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Cases continue to surge across the country, with one million added over the last seven days.
COVID-19 has killed more than 247,000 Americans, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That surpasses the high estimate that White House task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx gave Fox News host Chris Wallace in early May.
"Our projections have always been between 100,000 and 240,000 American lives lost," Birx said at the time. "And that's with full mitigation and us learning from each other of how to social distance."