House

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 Trump’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 Lee (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.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Hoyer (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. 

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 Mnuchin. 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 McCarthy (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 Phillips (D-Minn.). 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (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 Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday called for a testing and contact tracing program in the upper chamber in light of Trump’s diagnosis.

“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 Gohmert’s (R-Texas) COVID-19 diagnosis.

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 Rooney (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 Castro (D-Texas).

Rep. Jim Hagedorn (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.

Some lawmakers are still getting tested regularly regardless of the current Capitol protocols. Rep. Donna Shalala (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.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 COVID-19 testing Dean Phillips Donald Trump Donna Shalala Francis Rooney Jim Hagedorn Joaquin Castro Kevin McCarthy Louie Gohmert Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer Steven Mnuchin Trump positive test

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video