Rand Paul’s coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate

Republicans gathered for a closed-door caucus lunch when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) broke the news: One of their own, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Colleagues, as everyone now knows, the coronavirus has arrived in the Senate. There are at least five senators who are in self-quarantine at the moment,” McConnell said, making a public announcement from the Senate floor.

The first known case of a senator contracting the disease set off a domino effect throughout the chamber as colleagues tried to recall the last time they were in close contact with Paul, who was in the Capitol complex as recently as Sunday.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters on Sunday afternoon that senators would have to weigh whether they would need to self-quarantine. Only hours later, he announced that he would.

“Since Senator Romney sat next to Senator Paul for extended periods in recent days and consistent with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance, the attending physician has ordered him to immediately self-quarantine and not to vote on the Senate floor,” Romney’s office said in a statement on Sunday.

He was preceded by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who became the first senator to announce he would self-quarantine because of Paul.

“Upon learning that my colleague Sen. Paul tested positive for COVID-19, I consulted the Attending Physician of the U.S. Congress Dr. Harding,” Lee said in a statement. “Given the timing, proximity, and duration of my exposure to Sen. Paul, she directed me to self-quarantine for 14 days.”  

They join a handful of their colleagues who have had to isolate after being exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) are already self-quarantined for exposure unrelated to Paul. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had also self-quarantined for unrelated cases but are out of isolation. With five GOP senators in quarantine, the margin in the Senate is temporarily 48 Republicans and 47 Democrats.

After McConnell’s announcement, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) made an observation to his colleagues during the lunch: that he had seen Paul in the Senate gym just that morning.

The disclosure sparked two questions: Why was the Senate gym still operating while gyms across the country have shuttered, and why had Paul decided to come to the Capitol even though he was awaiting test results?

“I’ve never commented about a fellow Senator’s choices/actions. Never once. This, America, is absolutely irresponsible. You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results. It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) tweeted on Sunday.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) added that Paul’s decision to come to the Senate gym was “peculiar.”

“He’s a physician. He’s able to do his own risk assessment, and he evidently miscalculated,” Cramer said. “People have self-quarantined for less.”

Scott, during an interview with CNN from quarantine, added that he would “like to understand exactly where Rand was and what the risk is.”

“I think everybody ought to be talking to the Senate physician about what their risk is and whether they need to be quarantined,” he said.

Paul’s office stressed that he left the Capitol once he found out that he had tested positive.

“We want to be clear, Senator Paul left the Senate IMMEDIATELY upon learning of his diagnosis. He had zero contact with anyone & went into quarantine. Insinuations such as those below that he went to the gym after learning of his results are just completely false & irresponsible!” Paul’s office said in a tweet.

Asked when Paul got tested, and why did not self-quarantine until he got his results, Gor told The Hill that Paul “decided to get tested after attending an event where two individuals subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, even though he wasn’t aware of any direct contact with either one of them.”

“Additionally, due to a prior lung injury, and subsequent surgery on his lung, Senator Paul is in a higher risk category as it relates to pulmonary issues,” he added.

Even as some colleagues raised eyebrows about the disclosure that Paul had tested positive, there were few signs that senators were going to take extra steps to distance themselves in the immediate wake of the news.

Senators were spotted in close clusters on the Senate floor during a 6 p.m. vote. Only one senator, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), missed the vote in addition to the five senators who are quarantined.

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) made a cross with his fingers as a reporter approached him in the Senate basement. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) extended an arm and jokingly told a reporter to “stay away.”

Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) were standing shoulder to shoulder on their way up to the vote.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters that “we’re getting advice so far from the attending physician’s office that we don’t need to quarantine.”

Graham added that the attending physician had greenlighted the Senate GOP lunch that was held on Sunday.

“That’s good enough for me,” Graham said. “If I can go to a lunch, I can keep going to my job. And if I have any symptoms, I’ll go take a test.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he wished Paul “well” and that although he had been in the same room as Paul, he hadn’t “been in close proximity.”

Asked if it was appropriate for Paul to go to the gym, Cornyn, a member of the informal “gym caucus,” added, “I wasn’t there, so it doesn’t affect me.”

But Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted that he was wearing a surgical mask out of an abundance of caution.

“I have no specific reason to worry any more than anyone else, but given the physical proximity to members, staff, and especially people who could be vulnerable, I decided to be as careful as possible. Stay safe all,” he said.

And Paul’s disclosure has sparked renewed discussion about the Senate’s schedule. The chamber is supposed to be in schedule through the first week of April, but rumors have swirled for days that McConnell will let senators leave town once they pass a mammoth stimulus package.

“I believe that our first obligation is to finish our work for the American people. After that, I think it would be wise to accelerate the break that was scheduled for April,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also reupped their push for the Senate to adopt remote voting, something McConnell has objected to so far.

Durbin said on Sunday that the prospect of five senators self-quarantining was inevitable and could grow.

“This could grow. Let’s be very honest about it, and the numbers could grow to the point it could reach an extreme where there’s a question of an actual quorum on the floor of the Senate,” he added. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Brian Schatz Cory Gardner Dick Durbin doug jones Jack Reed Jerry Moran John Barrasso John Cornyn John Kennedy Kevin Cramer Lindsey Graham Mike Crapo Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Pat Toomey Rand Paul Rob Portman Susan Collins Ted Cruz Todd Young
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