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 ScaliseRepublicans say Biden energy plan will help GOP in rust belt states GOP lawmaker: Don't believe polls showing Trump behind Biden 4 Texas GOP congressional primary runoffs to watch MORE (La.) and Rep. Drew FergusonAnderson (Drew) Drew FergusonThe 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 Trump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans Top Georgia Republican endorses Doug Collins Senate bid 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 GOP lawmaker tests positive for COVID-19 Pelosi asks House chairs to enforce mandatory mask-wearing during hearings House GOP lawmaker 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 ColeHouse panel advances health bill with B in emergency COVID-19 funds Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to limit further expansion of 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Democrats sidestep budget deal by seeking 0B in emergency spending MORE (R-Okla.) and Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerSEC's Clayton demurs on firing of Manhattan US attorney he would replace Trump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy House passes massive T coronavirus relief package 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 MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - California a coronavirus cautionary tale as it retrenches to stave off infections The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Signs of a Trump, Fauci rift on display Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios MORE (N.C.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsWNBA dedicating opening weekend to Black Lives Matter The Hill's Campaign Report: Is Georgia reaching a tipping point? Democrats hope for tidal moment in Georgia with two Senate seats in play 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 MurphyOvernight Defense: US formally rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims | House set to consider defense policy bill next week | 57 injured as firefighters battle warship blaze Congress pulls punches on Russian bounties firestorm Moderate House Democrats introduce bill aimed at stopping China from exploiting coronavirus pandemic 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 HoyerPelosi 'absolutely' willing to push August recess to work on coronavirus relief The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - California a coronavirus cautionary tale as it retrenches to stave off infections 70 progressive groups call for next Foreign Affairs chair to reflect 'progressive realism' 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 McConnellSara Gideon wins Democratic race to challenge Susan Collins Schumer pushes for elimination of SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus relief bill Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel 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-PowellHispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs Lawmaker-linked businesses received PPP loans Democrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers 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.