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 GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees 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 ManchinBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week 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. 


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 ShelbyCrypto debate set to return in force Press: Why is Mo Brooks still in the House? Eshoo urges Pelosi to amend infrastructure bill's 'problematic' crypto regulation language 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 McConnell'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally House to act on debt ceiling next week 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."

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 ThuneManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Manchin-McConnell meet amid new voting rights push Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee MORE (R-S.D.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images MORE (D-Del.), Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Photos of the Week: Infrastructure vote, India floods and a bear The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (D-Nev.), Mark KellyMark KellyOvernight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling Businesses want Congress to support safe, quality jobs — so do nearly all Americans GOP sees Biden crises as boon for midterm recruitment MORE (D-Ariz.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDelta variant's spread hampers Labor Day air travel, industry recovery Wyden asks White House for details on jet fuel shortage amid wildfire season Air travel hits pandemic high MORE (D-Wash.) and Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Top Hispanic group endorses Cortez Masto for reelection Conservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan 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 MurkowskiEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - DC prepares for Saturday of festivals & Jan. 6 demonstration Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee MORE (Alaska), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (Ohio), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Democrats aim for maximum pressure on GOP over debt ceiling MORE (Utah), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization More Republicans call on Biden to designate Taliban as terrorist group Overnight Energy: Judge blocks permits for Alaska oil project MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWelcome to ground zero of climate chaos A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate Bipartisan blip: Infrastructure deal is last of its kind without systemic change 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. 


"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 BluntGOP hopes spending traps derail Biden agenda A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate passes infrastructure bill, budget resolution; Cuomo resigns 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 StabenowSanders says spending plan should be .5T 'at the very least' Senators call on Taiwan for aid in automotive chip shortage Photos of the Week: Infrastructure vote, India floods and a bear 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. 


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 RoundsThe 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Senate passes T bipartisan infrastructure bill in major victory for Biden Senate votes to end debate on T infrastructure bill 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 CapitoOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Capito grills EPA nominee on '#ResistCapitalism' tweet GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization MORE (W.Va.) ,Bill CassidyBill CassidySunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant GOP senator on Texas abortion law: Supreme Court will 'swat it away' when 'it comes to them in an appropriate manner' GOP hopes spending traps derail Biden agenda MORE (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Kevin CramerKevin John CramerThe Memo: Biden beats Trump again — this time in the Senate The 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Republicans unveil bill to ban federal funding of critical race theory MORE (N.D.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoThe Energy Sector Innovation Credit Act is an industry game-changer The 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Wyden asks White House for details on jet fuel shortage amid wildfire season MORE (Idaho), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime How to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) MORE (N.C.), McConnell and Murkowski have all been supporting the deal so far and were not on Manchin’s boat. 

Sens. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week Biden goes after top 1 percent in defending tax hikes MORE (D-Ariz.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Polls open in California as Newsom fights for job MORE (D-Mont.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill MORE (D-Va.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it Scott Brown's wife files to run for Congress 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 MurphySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' Sunday shows preview: Bombing in Kabul delivers blow to evacuation effort; US orders strikes on ISIS-K 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.