The last 12 hours have served as a frightening reminder of just how vulnerable Capitol Hill is when it comes to coronavirus. And lawmakers are once again calling for their leadership to implement a wide-ranging testing plan to ensure the safety of not only members, but workers and aides at the Capitol complex.
Sen. Mike Lee’s positive coronavirus diagnosis – his proximity to SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barret, his participation in GOP lunches and attendance at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday – is just the latest reminder that Capitol Hill is not immune from the threat of this virus. The way that the massive complex operates can leave it more susceptible to outbreaks.
For months, Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri and chairman of the Rules Committee, has been arguing to his colleagues and Democratic and Republican leaders that the Capitol must implement a testing plan to protect staff and members. But, those calls have often fallen on deaf ears as leaders have raised concerns about the optics of Congress being regularly tested when Americans across the country have complained of long delays in getting their results.
Now, however, multiple members tell CNN that something needs to be done.
Asked if it was time for a wide-spread testing plan, one Democratic senator immediately texted CNN back, “YES.” Asked if they had talked to leadership about it, the person responded “just did.”
A Republican senator told CNN that the Senate “probably needs some kind of new procedures” in how it operates.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier today that the President’s diagnosis was evidence that “the Senate needs a testing and contract tracing program for Senators, staff and all who work in the Capitol complex.”
“We simply cannot allow the administration’s cavalier attitude to adversely affect this branch of government. It is imperative that all results be made public in order to contain a possible outbreak and so we can determine the need for Senators and staff to quarantine or self-isolate,” Schumer said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CNN that he talked to Pelosi this morning about a testing regimen, “but we haven’t made a decision on that.”
Hoyer said a decision could be made before lawmakers return after the election.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has repeatedly pushed for testing at the Capitol and publicly disagreed with Pelosi and McConnell when they turned down rapid testing from the White House in the spring.
“With so many bodies coming in and out of here, I don’t understand why the Speaker would continue to not have testing, McCarthy told reporters Friday.
Other members have argued that it is up to individual members to get tested on their own.
“Everybody should be tested on a regular basis, but we can be tested in our local areas,” Rep. Donna Shalala, a Democrat from Florida, told reporters Friday during votes.