Members of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive

Members of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive
© Greg Nash

Members of the House GOP leadership team are self-quarantining after two lawmakers announced that they have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Top members of the minority whip team — including Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScalisePelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid House GOP whip team seeks to get Republicans behind Senate coronavirus bill 14 things to know today about coronavirus MORE (La.) and Rep. Drew FergusonAnderson (Drew) Drew FergusonHouse GOP whip team seeks to get Republicans behind Senate coronavirus bill 14 things to know today about coronavirus Members of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive MORE (Ga.), the chief deputy whip — are among the growing number of GOP lawmakers who have chosen to take precautions after Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartHouse chairwoman diagnosed with 'presumed' coronavirus infection Capitol officials extend suspension of tourist access until May Second Capitol Police officer tests positive for coronavirus MORE (R-Fla.) announced Wednesday that he tested positive for the virus.

Diaz-Balart, a member of the Whip team and a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, is known for being social around Capitol Hill, often seen shaking hands or hugging colleagues. 

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In addition to partaking in House votes, Diaz-Balart also participated in a Friday meeting with Scalise and some core members of the whip team, prompting other participants to self-quarantine. 

“I have just been informed that my colleague, Mario Diaz-Balart, tested positive for COVID-19. Since I had an extended meeting with him late last week, out of an abundance of caution, I have decided it would be best to self-quarantine based on the guidance of the Attending Physician of the United States Congress,” Scalise wrote in a press release, while noting that he is not experiencing any symptoms.

Other members of the whip team offered similar statements.

The gathering that Diaz-Balart attended was not a full whip meeting, and a Republican aide said that only a small margin of team members are self-quarantining.

Reps. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeDemocrats eye remote voting options Members of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive House Democrats unveil coronavirus economic response package MORE (R-Okla.) and Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerMembers of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive Wells Fargo chief pledges fresh start for scandal-ridden bank House lawmakers introduce legislation to promote women's global empowerment MORE (R-Mo.), members of the team, and Rep. David PriceDavid Eugene PriceMembers of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive FAA chief: Coronavirus risk 'no higher' on planes Democratic lawmakers rip Carson over cuts to housing budget, policies MORE (D-N.C.), also a member of the Appropriations panel, all announced that they would be self-quarantining in light of the news about two their colleagues testing positive.

The announcements mark a new wave of lawmakers buckling down for a two-week self-quarantine period, set to last until March 27. The first wave came after news broke that an attendee at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) had tested positive for the virus, prompting House Republicans including Reps. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMeadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House Mnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus MORE (N.C.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsGeorgia makes it easier to get mail-in ballots after delaying primary Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' House bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress MORE (Ga.), who attended the conference, to self-quarantine.

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But Wednesday marked a new reality for the nation’s lawmakers as the first two members announced on the same day that they had tested positive: Diaz-Balart and Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah).

Diaz-Balart said he first felt symptoms developing on Saturday evening, including a headache and fever. 

The day before, he was on the House floor voting with his colleagues late at night after the House and Trump administration went back and forth in their negotiations over legislation responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Florida Republican has issued a statement stating that he is “feeling much better,” while stressing the seriousness of following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for avoiding catching or spreading the disease.

McAdams, a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, also announced Wednesday that his symptoms had begun over the weekend.

“On Saturday evening, after returning from Washington, D.C., I developed mild cold-like symptoms,” McAdams wrote in a statement. He added that he went into self-isolation but his “symptoms got worse.” 

“I developed a fever, a dry cough, and labored breathing and I remained self-quarantined,” McAdams said.

Other Blue Dog members have since announced that they are self-quarantining.

“Last Friday, I was in contact with a fellow Member of Congress who has tested positive for COVID-19. On the advice of the Attending Physician of the U.S. Congress and out of an abundance of caution, I will be self-quarantining until Friday, March 27, 2020,” Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyPelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid Sunday shows preview: State governors and top medical officials prepare for next week of COVID-19 response Members of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive MORE (D-Fla.) said in a statement late Wednesday.

The domino effect of the self-quarantine announcements are likely in part due to vigorous efforts of the House physician’s office, which has worked to determine with whom the infected members have been in contact before their symptoms began to develop. 

The infections of two House members sent shockwaves of anxiety through Capitol Hill, adding further pressure to take precautions.

One day after the announcements, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerProcedural politics: What just happened with the coronavirus bill? DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House MORE (D-Md.) revealed that the lower chamber was moving to adjust voting procedures in order to help prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. 

“I share the concerns of many Members regarding the number of Members on the House Floor at any one time. I therefore expect that the House will adjust our voting procedures in order to follow the CDC’s recommendations,” Hoyer said in a statement Thursday, adding that they have not fully decided what those changes will be just yet.

Hoyer noted that he does not intend to bring the House back into session until members are called to vote on the third piece of legislation aimed to respond to the economic impact of the pandemic, which was introduced in the Senate Thursday evening by Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden spar over coronavirus response Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Schumer praises choice of Defense inspector general to oversee corporate lending fund MORE (R-Ky.).

There are growing calls for leaders in the House and Senate to change chamber rules and allow remote voting amid the outbreak, though that idea has been met with some resistance.

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“In. Person. Voting. Should. Be. Reconsidered,” tweeted freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellHoldout governors face pressure to issue stay-at-home orders Florida confirms over 500 new cases of coronavirus in the state Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House MORE (D-Fla.) on Wednesday night. “For the safety of our communities, during this emergency, we must be able to legislate from our districts.”

As of Thursday, there were at least 10,822 people in the U.S. with coronavirus, spanning all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories, according to a New York Times database of the pandemic.

The coronavirus is more dangerous to individuals with medical preconditions and older people. And about a third of Congress falls into the age group that is more vulnerable, with the average age of House members at 58 and the average age of senators at 63.

Changes on Capitol Hill began to take place as the virus to spread from coast to coast in order to protect members, staff, reporters and other Capitol Hill employees.

New restrictions were put into place last week, including prohibiting tours — both public and member- or staff-led — until April. Members of the public were blocked from entering the Capitol and its office buildings unless they were on official business. And reporters, if they still chose to go to Capitol Hill, began implementing the social-distancing recommendations this week of standing six feet apart from lawmakers and other political figures.

Such precautions remain in use as the Senate works this week to pass the third phase of a massive stimulus package to prevent the economy from plummeting into a recession amid the outbreak.

—Juliegrace Brufke contributed.