Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are calling on congressional leadership to implement a comprehensive plan for coronavirus testing at the Capitol after a recent outbreak that included several lawmakers. 

Two dozen senators, spearheaded by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), sent a letter on Monday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying that the environment within the Capitol “has created vulnerabilities” for those in the building every day.

“With 123 positive cases amongst Legislative Branch employees or contractors, it is critical that everyone has access to and the assurance of strong testing protocols to prevent the unidentified spread that has occurred in several instances over the past few months. Failing to provide this testing puts everybody within the Capitol complex at risk,” the senators wrote. 

The senators said that testing “is now being offered to some Senate staff for the first time,” but warned that “these actions do not go far enough.”

“They do not provide access to testing for all workers throughout the Capitol buildings, despite their risk of exposure. We ask you, in coordination with the Office of the Attending Physician, to expand access to free testing for all workers around the Capitol,” they added. 

Those who would be able to get tested under the more widespread plan envisioned by Democrats would include Capitol Police, office staff, restaurant workers, cleaning staff and members, among others. 

In addition to Murphy, Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Tina Smith (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Bob Casey (Pa.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) signed the letter.

Some testing has been available in the Capitol to members and those around a lawmaker who tests positive for the coronavirus. 

But with lawmakers in close quarters with each other, staff and the press, and still flying to and from their home states regularly, there have been growing bipartisan calls for a more formal, widespread testing program in the Capitol. 

Pelosi and McConnell both previously declined an offer of rapid testing from the White House earlier this year, saying they wanted to keep resources directed toward the front lines. 

McConnell, facing questions during recent stops in Kentucky, gave no indication that he was going to ramp up testing in response to three GOP senators recently testing positive and others having to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution.

“We’re following the advice of the CDC in how we operate the Senate and so far we’ve been able to do it quite successfully,” McConnell said earlier this month, referring to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In addition to more robust testing, Democrats are calling on the Senate to require a mask on its side of the Capitol and in office buildings.

Most senators wear a mask around the Capitol, though it isn’t required. Mask-wearing among staff in the office buildings is more hit-and-miss.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bob Casey Brian Schatz Chris Murphy Chris Van Hollen Coronavirus Coronavirus testing Elizabeth Warren Jeff Merkley Mazie Hirono Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Patrick Leahy Ron Wyden Sherrod Brown Tammy Baldwin Tina Smith
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