Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate

The coronavirus officially returned to the United States Senate on Monday.

News that Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case MORE (R-S.C.) tested positive quickly jolted through the Capitol and sparked an hours-long scramble to figure out who else might have been exposed, which only escalated after sources confirmed that the South Carolina Republican attended an outdoor event on Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinHow 'Buy American', other pro-US policies can help advocates pass ambitious climate policies Photos of the Week: Manchin protestor, Paris Hilton and a mirror room Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Biden seeks to quell concerns over climate proposals MORE’s (D-W.Va.) houseboat over the weekend with other senators. 

Graham’s “breakthrough” case, the first known instance among senators, comes as the chamber has largely loosened social distancing restrictions in recent months, with at least 96 of the 100 senators vaccinated. Though the Capitol physician has recommended mask wearing regardless of vaccination status, most Republicans have not been wearing them, and even some Democrats would remove them while hobnobbing on the floor with their colleagues. 

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It also comes as the Senate is embarking on a tense slog of legislating: It is currently debating a bipartisan bill, which Graham has been helping advance, before Democrats turn to a budget resolution and then leave for a weeks-long break. 

“Y’all OK? Nobody’s sick?” a masked GOP Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyBlack Hawk pilot shot down in Somalia jumps into Alabama Senate race Senate Democrats ditch Hyde amendment for first time in decades Senate Democrats unveil remaining spending bills, teeing up clash with Republicans MORE (Ala.) asked reporters as senators came to the Capitol for the first vote after news of Graham’s positive test result. 

Asked why he decided to wear a mask, Shelby said, “Why do you think? I’d like to stay healthy. ... I was in the room the other day with Lindsey when we were meeting with [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.)]. So you don’t know.” 

Though the Senate didn’t vote this weekend, Graham was in the Capitol on Monday and briefly spoke with reporters. In a move that didn’t go unnoticed, the normally chatty GOP senator appeared to be in a hurry and was wearing a mask — an unusual move for the largely maskless Senate GOP caucus. 

“I’ll talk to y'all later,” he told reporters as they tried to push for details on potential changes to the bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

Nearly an hour later, his office released a statement announcing that Graham had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I started having flu-like symptoms Saturday night and went to the doctor this morning. I feel like I have a sinus infection and at present time I have mild symptoms. I will be quarantining for ten days,” he said.

Experts say infections in people who are vaccinated, known as breakthrough cases, are rare and usually result in only mild symptoms. 

An analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that less than 1 percent of fully vaccinated people got a breakthrough case in every state reporting data. The highest rate of hospitalization among vaccinated people was just 0.06 percent, in Arkansas. The rate of death among vaccinated people was at a high of just 0.01 percent. 

"These infections, because they are so mild, illustrate just how efficacious the vaccine is in taming the virus," Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, wrote in an email. "The virus is not going anywhere and overtime [there are] going to be breakthrough infections. The fact that they are mild due to the vaccines doing exactly what they were designed to do should be the story."

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Graham credited the vaccine with helping keep his coronavirus symptoms in check. 

"I am very glad I was vaccinated because without vaccination I am certain I would not feel as well as I do now," he said.

Graham’s positive result is the first for senators in months, after most were vaccinated. His diagnosis raised immediate questions about whether another senator could test positive after several lawmakers confirmed that they had been at a houseboat gathering with Graham over the weekend. 

Manchin, who hosted the event on his boat, said that he tested negative. 

“There was no celebration. We’re just trying to keep people together and do things in a bipartisan way. That’s what we do,” Manchin said about the houseboat party, which another Senate office noted took place outdoors. 

Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocratic frustration with Sinema rises Senate Republicans raise concerns about TSA cyber directives for rail, aviation Democrats narrow scope of IRS proposal amid GOP attacks MORE (R-S.D.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsManchin threatens 'zero' spending in blowup with Sanders: reports Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (D-Del.), Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenProgressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Nevada becomes early Senate battleground Hillicon Valley — Presented by American Edge Project — Americans blame politicians, social media for spread of misinformation: poll MORE (D-Nev.), Mark KellyMark KellyOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Arizona attorney general asks for restraining order to block federal vaccine mandate Our military shouldn't be held hostage to 'water politics' MORE (D-Ariz.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate Democrat calls on Facebook to preserve documents related to whistleblower testimony Biden says he has directed DOJ to focus on violence from unruly airline passengers Looking to the past to secure America's clean energy future MORE (D-Wash.) and Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoSenate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents Nevada becomes early Senate battleground Harry Reid calls on Democrats to plow forward on immigration MORE (D-Nev.) were also at Manchin’s bipartisan boathouse event. Manchin estimated that roughly a dozen senators were there.

Spokespeople for Coons and Thune both said that they tested negative, while Cantwell is getting tested. Spokespeople for Kelly, Rosen and Cortez Masto said that they were following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. For fully vaccinated people, the CDC recommends they get tested three to five days after exposure and wear a mask indoors for 14 days or until they get a negative test result. 

Even after the news of Graham’s positive result, most Republican senators were spotted without masks on the Senate floor during the first vote the chamber held early Monday evening. 

Only a handful of GOP senators were seen wearing masks: Shelby, Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHouse passes bill to expand workplace protections for nursing mothers Democrats look for plan B on filibuster Senate will vote on John Lewis voting bill as soon as next week MORE (Alaska), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Top GOP senators want joint review of Afghan visa process Timken rolls out six-figure ad campaign, hits Fauci MORE (Ohio), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyIn Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line Trump-backed bills on election audits, illegal voting penalties expected to die in Texas legislature The Memo: Conservatives change their tune on big government MORE (Utah), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Key CDC panel backs Moderna, J&J boosters GOP senators call on Biden to back down from vaccine mandates Alaska man accused of threatening senators to remain detained ahead of trial MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing MORE (Maine). 

Murkowski, asked about her mask earlier Monday afternoon, appeared unaware of Graham’s positive COVID-19 result. She told reporters that she was wearing one out of respect for Washington, D.C.’s indoor masking requirement. 

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"I haven't seen him, and I didn't know that," Murkowski said when asked about her mask. "I am wearing it because we're in the District, and the District has imposed a mask mandate." 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntIt's time to make access to quality kidney care accessible and equitable for all Hartzler pulls in 6,000 for Missouri Senate bid with .65M on hand McConnell gets GOP wake-up call MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said he was thinking about wearing a mask. But he also warned reporters from sensationalizing that Graham tested positive. 

Blunt said he had been talking with CDC officials about how to make sure the fact that getting the vaccine made it less likely that you would get coronavirus and, if you were diagnosed, less likely that you would have a severe case didn't get overshadowed. 
 
He appeared to chide reporters and warned that reporting that it is "shocking" that some individuals who have been vaccinated subsequently get the coronavirus "would probably discourage some people at least from getting the vaccine."

But Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Democrats dial down the Manchin tension Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (Mich.), a member of Democratic leadership, urged all senators to wear masks and said that Democratic leadership meetings, after initially meeting in person, had gone back to Zoom. 

Senate Democrats will hold their Tuesday caucus lunch virtually, an aide confirmed to The Hill. Democrats had started meeting in person again in mid-April after suspending in-person lunches for more than a year. 

Spokespeople for McConnell didn’t respond to a question about the GOP’s Tuesday lunch. 

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The Senate is currently at the start of a days-long debate over the roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Graham is one of 17 Republicans who have supported advancing it. If every Democrat supports it, they would need only 10 GOP senators. That could mean they don’t need his vote, and Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsSenate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit Schumer frustrates GOP, Manchin with fiery debt ceiling speech MORE (R-S.D.), who supports it, returned to D.C. after being absent last week. 

None of the other Republicans who have been voting for the bipartisan deal have said, so far, that they were on Manchin’s boat.

Sens. Blunt, Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoBiden's soft touch with Manchin, Sinema frustrates Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit Here are the 11 GOP senators who helped advance the debt extension MORE (W.Va.) ,Bill CassidyBill CassidyTrump goes after Cassidy after senator says he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Hillicon Valley — Presented by American Edge Project — Americans blame politicians, social media for spread of misinformation: poll MORE (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Kevin CramerKevin John CramerSenate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Lobbying world The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (N.D.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoDemocrats narrow scope of IRS proposal amid GOP attacks Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Yellen confident of minimum global corporate tax passage in Congress MORE (Idaho), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair GOP rallies around Manchin, Sinema Advocates frustrated by shrinking legal migration under Biden MORE (N.C.), McConnell and Murkowski have all been supporting the deal so far and were not on Manchin’s boat. 

Sens. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaBiden injects new momentum into filibuster fight On The Money — Democrats confident cuts won't water down bill Sinema's office outlines opposition to tax rate hikes MORE (D-Ariz.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Manchin, Sanders in budget feud; Biden still upbeat Democratic frustration with Sinema rises Which proposals will survive in the Democrats' spending plan? MORE (D-Mont.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Biden seeks to quell concerns over climate proposals Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Intelligence report warns of climate threats in all countries The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Biden holds meetings to resurrect his spending plan MORE (D-Va.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenProgressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (D-N.H.), who were key negotiators on the bipartisan deal, were also not at Manchin’s gathering. 

But Graham’s absence will impact the Senate's debate on the budget resolution that tees up Democrats' $3.5 trillion spending package. As the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, he had been expected to oversee a days-long floor debate and a chaotic vote-a-rama, where any senator who wants to force a vote can. Thune will now oversee the budget debate for Republicans.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats look for plan B on filibuster The Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats Democrats struggle to sell Biden plan amid feuding MORE (D-Conn.) added that it underscored how every vote counts in a 50-50 Senate. 

“I don’t know. I don’t think you can plan for all of the Republicans who voted yes ... to vote yes on cloture,” he said. “Those are different votes.”

Peter Sullivan contributed. Updated at 8:05 p.m.