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Calls for COVID-19 tests at Capitol grow after Trump tests positive

Members of Congress are resuming calls for congressional leaders to implement a testing regimen on Capitol Hill after President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE’s bombshell announcement that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Many lawmakers have called for a testing program for months, given that many are elderly and traveling from all over the country. 

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks Biden reignites war powers fight with Syria strike Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers MORE (R-Utah), who attended a White House event with Trump and other Republicans over the weekend, became the latest lawmaker on Friday to announce he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask wars Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief Biden urges Democrats to advocate for rescue package MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks DOJ declined to take up Chao ethics probe Trump was unhinged and unchanged at CPAC MORE (R-Ky.) turned down the White House’s offer to provide rapid testing capabilities in May, stating that front-line facilities should be provided the resources before they are made available to Congress. 

But with the uptick in members and administration officials testing positive, pressure is mounting for congressional leaders to reconsider new protocols. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats introduce bill providing citizenship to Dreamers On The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask wars Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief MORE (D-Md.) said providing testing at the Capitol is being discussed, and expects a decision to be made before lawmakers return from the October recess that began Friday afternoon.

“I talked to the Speaker about that this morning, but we haven't made a decision on that. But I think certainly in light of that we need to consult with our medical people,” Hoyer told reporters on Friday. 

“The tests, depending upon what tests we have, if we are going to do tests we need to do reliable tests. I think one of the problems is they were doing a quick test at the White House, probably not as reliable. I think that changed, I’m not sure. But anyway, we are looking at that.”

Pelosi’s office pointed to guidance from the Capitol’s attending physician stating that same-day coronavirus testing is available for lawmakers who have symptoms or are concerned they were exposed to the virus. Staffers in contact with known COVID-19 cases in the Capitol are also offered testing. 

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The attending physician’s office noted that the overall positive test rate in Congress has been less than 1 percent.

Pelosi said on MSNBC on Friday morning that she had been tested for COVID-19 after meeting this week with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden cautious in making Trump tax returns decision Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears MORE. Both Mnuchin and Pelosi tested negative on Friday.

Across the Capitol, McConnell indicated that there wouldn’t be changes on a testing regime for senators and staff.

"We're following the advice of the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] in how we operate the Senate and so far we've been able to do it quite successfully,” McConnell said Friday in Kentucky.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill Parliamentarian strikes down Pelosi priority in aid package Democrats snipe on policy, GOP brawls over Trump MORE (R-Calif.), who previously said he was exploring options on how to bring testing to the Capitol without Pelosi’s approval, took aim at the Speaker for opting against accepting the White House’s offer to provide testing resources. 

“I mean, from that perspective, it's just with so many bodies coming in and out of here. I don't understand why the Speaker would continue to not have testing,” McCarthy said. 

House members left Washington for a recess Friday afternoon, likely until after the November elections unless lawmakers are called back to vote on a coronavirus relief deal. But some said a testing system that they think is overdue should be considered for when the House comes back into session.

“With all due respect, to be considering a testing regime as we take our final votes before the election, six months after the pandemic hit our country, seems a little too late. But yes, it should be considered because we'll be back here in a month and I'm just disappointed that that wasn't made available to us beforehand,” said Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsCurator estimates Capitol art damage from mob totals K Architect of the Capitol considering display on Jan. 6 riot Rep. Phillips says he did not truly understand white privilege until the Capitol riot MORE (D-Minn.). 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J vax rollout today; third woman accuses Cuomo 'Lucky': Inside Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement of Sanders MORE (D-N.Y.) suggested having lawmakers take coronavirus tests upon arriving in Washington to avoid the possibility of a “super-spreader event” when they all congregate while the House is in session.

“I really do think that there's a strong possibility that every time we convene in a session, it has the potential to be a super-spreader event. We're talking about 435 members of Congress coming from all over the country flying on a plane coming here,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I do think every time we have 400 members getting on a plane from different parts of the country, we may want to test upon arrival, or have some sort of testing protocol.”

The Senate, meanwhile, is expected to continue to stay in session in October to consider President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade A Biden stumble on China? MORE (D-N.Y.) on Friday called for a testing and contact tracing program in the upper chamber in light of Trump’s diagnosis.

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“This episode demonstrates that the Senate needs a testing and contact tracing program for Senators, staff, and all who work in the Capitol complex. We simply cannot allow the administration's cavalier attitude to adversely affect this branch of government," Schumer said in a statement.

"It is imperative that all results be made public in order to contain a possible outbreak and so we can determine the need for Senators and staff to quarantine or self-isolate," he added.

While lawmakers are not widely tested for COVID-19 like visitors at the White House, congressional leaders have taken other steps to lower the risk of viral spread in the Capitol complex since the pandemic began.

Both House and Senate committees began holding virtual committee hearings early on in the pandemic and encouraged staffers to work from home as much as possible.

But it wasn’t until late July that Pelosi instituted a mask mandate on the House floor and surrounding House office buildings.

Numerous GOP lawmakers refused to wear masks around the Capitol for months, but that didn’t change until Pelosi made them a requirement following Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertNIH director: Mask politicalization may have cost 'tens of thousands' of lives in US Democrats should make the 'Bee-Gees' the face of the Republican Party GOP lawmakers call for Pelosi to be fined over new screenings MORE’s (R-Texas) COVID-19 diagnosis.

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Gohmert had been roaming Capitol Hill, at times without a mask, while asymptomatic and only learned he had the virus when he was tested at the White House ahead of a planned event with Trump. 

House Democrats also instituted proxy voting in May to allow lawmakers to authorize colleagues physically present in the chamber to vote on their behalf if they are sick, cannot travel or need to quarantine.

Republicans — with the exception of retiring Rep. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyRepublican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC A party of ideas, not a cult of personality Growing number of House Republicans warm to proxy voting MORE (R-Fla.) — have refused to partake in proxy voting, arguing that lawmakers should show up to vote in person like other essential workers during the pandemic.

Numerous Democrats expressed concern that some Republicans who had been in proximity to Trump and other White House officials in recent days still showed up to vote Friday. 

“To any members of Congress who were in close quarters with the President recently — please don’t come to work today. That’s why we put in place proxy voting during this pandemic. Sincerely, A Co-worker,” tweeted Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroState Department establishes chief officer in charge of diversity Texas governor faces criticism over handling of winter storm fallout DC bureau chief for The Intercept: Impeachment managers became 'like the dog who caught the car' when permitted to call witnesses MORE (D-Texas).

Rep. Jim HagedornJames Lee HagedornREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Hagedorn holds onto Minnesota House seat Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night MORE (R-Minn.), who traveled with Trump on Air Force One on Wednesday, said in a statement that he had been tested for COVID-19 and was advised by the Capitol physician that he could still continue with voting on the House floor while wearing a mask and delaying air travel until his test is confirmed as "negative," because his interactions with Trump and others who tested positive didn't meet the criteria of close contact.

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Some lawmakers are still getting tested regularly regardless of the current Capitol protocols. Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaIt's time for a second Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health Biden's new challenge: Holding Trump accountable Trump, Florida complicate Biden approach to Cuba MORE (D-Fla.) said that she’s routinely been able to access testing in Washington and in her Miami-based district.

“They've made it available,” Shalala said. “I'm tested on either end because I've got to fly back and forth.”

—Updated at 6:05 p.m.