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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 ScaliseMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats Cedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins MORE (La.) and Rep. Drew FergusonAnderson (Drew) Drew FergusonHillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response 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-BalartMichigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 Democratic Rep. Carbajal tests positive for COVID-19 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 ColeThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House Republican fears grow over rising Democratic tide Bottom line MORE (R-Okla.) and Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerEnergized by polls, House Democrats push deeper into GOP territory Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Republican fears grow over rising Democratic tide MORE (R-Mo.), members of the team, and Rep. David PriceDavid Eugene PriceHouse panel approves measure requiring masks on public transport Overnight Energy: 350 facilities skip reporting water pollution | Panel votes to block Trump's 'secret science' rule | Court upholds regulation boosting electric grid storage Committee votes to block Trump's 'secret science' EPA rule 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 MeadowsWhite House science office says Trump ended COVID-19 pandemic as US hits record cases Obama rips Trump's pandemic response: 'He's jealous of COVID's media coverage' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day MORE (N.C.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsHouse Judiciary Republicans mockingly tweet 'Happy Birthday' to Hillary Clinton after Barrett confirmation Poll shows deadlocked races for president, Senate seat in Georgia Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day 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 MurphyDemocrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Bank lobbying group launches ad backing Collins reelection bid House Democrats call on State Department for information on Uighur prisoner Ekpar Asat MORE (D-Fla.) said in a statement late Wednesday.

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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 HoyerHoyer lays out ambitious Democratic agenda for 2021, with health care at top Top Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate Trump orders aides to halt talks on COVID-19 relief 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 McConnellBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Trump blasts Obama speech for Biden as 'fake' after Obama hits Trump's tax payments White House hoping for COVID-19 relief deal 'within weeks': spokeswoman 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-PowellDemocrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade House Democrats target Hispanic voters in battlegrounds with new barrage of ads Disinformation, QAnon efforts targeting Latino voters ramp up ahead of presidential election 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.