Pelosi says testing lawmakers is up to Capitol physician

Pelosi says testing lawmakers is up to Capitol physician
© Bonnie Cash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Top Democrats say postmaster confirmed changes to mail service amid delays MORE (D-Calif.) said Friday that providing coronavirus tests for all members of Congress was not her decision to make.

"It's not a decision of mine, it's a decision of the Capitol physician," she told reporters in the Capitol.

In early May, the White House had offered the leaders in both chambers a supply of rapid testing kits, responding to concerns that lawmakers bouncing back and forth between their districts were especially susceptible to contracting COVID-19.

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Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day MORE (R-Ky.), in a rare moment of unity, declined the offer. Given the dearth of testing kits across the country, they said at the time, those supplies should be reserved for "front-line facilities" and others in more dire need.

Pelosi on Friday said that reasoning still stands.

"There are many people in the country who should be tested, should have access, in order to quantify the problem, but also to trace and to treat, so that people don't die. And I don't think it's a good idea for members of the Congress to say, 'We should have it, but maybe not necessarily the people who work here at the expense of others,'" she said.

"It comes back to equipment," she added. "We would probably have to do thousands of people — some would say every day, some would say every week. It's not up to Sen. McConnell or me. As far as I'm concerned it's up to the Capitol physician."

The issue of testing was thrust into the spotlight this week after another lawmaker, Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump order aims to curb US agencies' use of foreign workers after TVA outrage | EPA transition back to the office alarms employees | Hundreds of green groups oppose BLM nominee Interior stresses 'showing up for work' after Grijalva tests positive for coronavirus Trump's junk medicine puts his own supporters at deadly risk MORE (R-Texas), tested positive for the coronavirus.

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While he's hardly the only lawmaker to contract the virus — at least eight others are know to have tested positive — Gohmert's infection attracted outsized attention since he was among the small but vocal group of conservative Republicans who have frequently refused to wear masks around Capitol Hill.

In response, Pelosi quickly adopted a new policy requiring masks on the House side of the Capitol, including during votes on the floor.

"It is something that you would have thought as a matter of courtesy, or just safety, that the Republicans would have agreed to before," she said. "And some did, but not all. And now they must."

That policy marked an expansion from an earlier requirement that masks be worn during House committee hearings. But some House leaders want to go another step further and mandate rapid testing for all lawmakers.

“There's no other place that has this responsibility in this size that is being managed this way," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyJudge throws out House GOP lawsuit over proxy voting Republicans fear disaster in November Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker MORE (R-Calif.).

Capitol physician Brian Monahan has said he simply doesn't have enough tests for each lawmaker returning to Washington. Pelosi noted Friday that it's not only lawmakers who would need testing, but staffers and other personnel on Capitol Hill when Congress is in session.

"You think of members of Congress, Oh there are 535. No, there are about 20,000 people who make the Capitol run," she said. "And the Capitol Physician has not said yet that he thinks that we should be tested."