McConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Trump takes two punches from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) will temporarily halt in-person Republican lunches amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, an aide confirmed to The Hill Saturday night.

 

"With the recent nationwide spikes, extra precautions are necessary to keep Senators and all campus staff as safe as possible," a senior GOP leadership aide told The Hill.

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The decision to suspend in-person lunches comes as Congress has seen a rise in coronavirus cases among its members. 

Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection MORE (R-Iowa) both tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks. 

The majority leader informed Senate Republicans of the change on Saturday, according to the aide. They also said that zero coronavirus cases had been linked to the GOP lunches or floor activity.

Since May, Republican caucus members have attended socially distanced lunches in the Senate Hart building while Democrats have held weekly caucus lunches via phone call.

Now, Republican senators will have to make calls in place of lunches.

Senate voting will remain in person and safety precautions will be maintained, such as keeping chamber doors open, holding votes open for extended periods and encouraging members to leave once they have voted, according to Politico.

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Absences due to the pandemic in the Senate chamber have led to unintended stalls in its agenda recently.

The upper chamber was unable to move ahead on Federal Reserve nominee Judy Shelton partly due to Scott and Grassley quarantining after being exposed to people who had the virus, Politico reported. 

The Senate is slated to return Monday after the holiday break. 

News about the lunches comes as the United States endures a staggering surge of coronavirus cases. The country recorded over 200,000 infections on Friday alone.