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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 ScaliseFeehery: How Republicans can win by focusing on schools Former RNC chair to Republicans looking for new Trump party: 'There's the door' This week: House to vote on Biden's .9 trillion coronavirus bill MORE (La.) and Rep. Drew FergusonAnderson (Drew) Drew FergusonGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 GOP sees path to House majority in 2022 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus 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-BalartBottom line Three years later, father of Parkland shooting victim calls for meaningful school safety reform House GOP campaign arm rolls out new leadership team 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 ColeDemocratic women sound alarm on female unemployment House votes to kick Greene off committees over embrace of conspiracy theories LIVE COVERAGE: House debates removing Greene from committees MORE (R-Okla.) and Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerHouse panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps Republicans rally to keep Cheney in power Capitol Police tribute turns political MORE (R-Mo.), members of the team, and Rep. David PriceDavid Eugene Price150 House Democrats support Biden push to reenter Iran nuclear deal House 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 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 MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE (N.C.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsPerdue rules out 2022 Senate bid against Warnock Loeffler leaves door open to 2022 rematch against Warnock On The Trail: Trump threatens a Tea Party redux 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 MurphyBlue Dogs push for further action on domestic terrorism Senate Democrats likely to face key test of unity on 2022 budget What the Capitol siege means for the future of security clearances 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 HoyerHoyer: House will vote on COVID-19 relief bill Friday On The Money: Biden faces backlash from left on student loans | Where things stand on the COVID-19 relief measure | Retail sales rebound The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden navigates pressures from Dems 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 McConnellMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general Trump to attend private RNC donor retreat The Patriot Party already exists — it's the Democrats 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-PowellTrump, Florida complicate Biden approach to Cuba The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread The Memo: Democrats see warning signs beyond 2020 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.