Rand Paul tests positive for coronavirus, under quarantine

Kentucky Republican’s office says senator is asymptomatic

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., leaves the Senate after speaking on the Senate floor in July of 2019. Paul announced Sunday he had tested positive for COVID-19.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., leaves the Senate after speaking on the Senate floor in July of 2019. Paul announced Sunday he had tested positive for COVID-19. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 22, 2020 at 2:00pm, Updated at 5:33pm

Sen. Rand Paul is under quarantine after testing positive for the new coronavirus but is “feeling fine,” the Kentucky Republican’s office announced Sunday on Twitter.

The news came shortly before the Senate planned to hold a procedural vote on an economic stimulus package still being negotiated.

Paul being under quarantine means he’ll miss the vote since the Senate does not have a mechanism in place for lawmakers to vote remotely.

Two Republicans who’ve had prolonged contact with Paul in recent days, Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, announced later Sunday that they were going under self-quarantine and would miss votes.

Both said they were self-quarantining on the advice of the Capitol’s attending physician. Romney also said he would get tested for the coronavirus, while Lee said the attending physician said he didn’t need to.

Republican senators said they expected to Senate would remain in session until the stimulus bill was passed.

“Whenever we’re through with our business, we should do what every other American is being asked to do, which is to shelter in place,” said Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, who is a doctor.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune said Paul testing positive for the coronavirus adds a sense of urgency for the chamber to complete its work on the stimulus bill.

“I don’t think we have any choice but to get this done tomorrow,” the South Dakota Republican said.

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Paul’s office tweeted that the senator is asymptomatic but “was tested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events.”

“He was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person,” the tweet read.

Respiratory issues are among the complications that can occur in patients that test positive for COVID-19. Paul had a portion of his lung removed in August, a lingering result of a violent altercation with his neighbor in 2017.

Paul’s Washington staff had been working remotely for 10 days so “virtually no staff has had contact” with the senator, a second tweet read.

Paul is the first senator to announce a positive coronavirus test. Two House members, Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and Utah Democrat Ben McAdams, have also tested positive.

Several House members are also under self-quarantine after coming into contact with Diaz-Balart and McAdams.

(McAdams, back home in Utah, announced Sunday that he experienced extreme shortness of breath Friday and, after calling the COVID-19 hotline, was admitted to a local hospital and received oxygen. He is now off oxygen, “feeling better,” and expects to be released, he said in a statement.)

President Donald Trump at a news conference Sunday said the coronavirus is “getting quite close to home,” while noting the diagnoses of Paul and Diaz-Balart, whom he misidentified as José.

“I hope they’re all going to be fine, but I just want to send our regards … to those two great friends of mine,” he said.

Contact with colleagues

Paul has been present in the Capitol and Senate office buildings the past few days as the Senate negotiates a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package. It’s unclear how many senators he’s come in contact with during that time, but several of his GOP colleagues besides Lee and Romney said they’d been near him recently.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran informed senators during a Republican lunch Sunday where they learned the news about Paul that he had seen his Kentucky colleague in the pool in the Senate gym that morning, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Paul’s office said in a later tweet that the senator left the Senate immediately after learning of his diagnosis.

“He had zero contact with anyone & went into quarantine,” his office said, calling “insinuations” that he went to the gym after getting his results “just completely false & irresponsible.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters after the lunch that he sat by Paul on Thursday but added, “I’ve been told that we don’t need to self-quarantine.” 

Graham said that advice came from Dr. Brian Monahan, the Capitol’s attending physician.  

“So what I’m going to do is just assume it’s OK,” he said. “Because before I had direct contact with somebody, I felt bad, I got tested and I was negative.

The offices of the attending physician located throughout the Capitol complex are not administering tests for COVID-19 but provides referrals to locations that do conduct testing for those determined to need one.

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt told reporters that he had not yet been in contact with the attending physician but that he doesn’t see Paul’s diagnosis triggering immediate changes in the Senate.

“Individual members will know whether they’ve had much contact with him in the last week or not. And I don’t believe it changes our posture,” the Missouri Republican said.

Blunt relayed to reporters what he told his wife about contact with Paul: “I have not been anywhere close to Rand Paul in the last two to three weeks.”

‘A little late’

Senate Democrats likely had less contact with Paul but seemed to be taking more immediate precautions than Republicans. After the news broke, they left an in-person caucus lunch with plans to resume their discussions over teleconference.

Sen. Doug Jones pointed out that the concerns about congregating probably should’ve been raised before a senator tested positive for the virus. (Democrats had conducted some meetings remotely earlier in the week.)

“It’s a little late for that,” the Alabama Democrat said.

Senators didn’t appear to be discussing any immediate plans to leave the Capitol or Washington in light of Paul’s news. Blunt, who is part of a cohort in the chamber that spends many weekends in Washington, rather than traveling to their home states, noted recommendations by health officials against unnecessary travel.

“If we do get out of here, how would we get out of here?” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants to pass the stimulus package on Monday. But Republicans and Democrats were struggling to agree on the details of the package as a procedural vote approached Sunday.

Paul’s absence would likely make it easier for McConnell to pass a package if there’s a bipartisan agreement because his fellow Kentucky senator is often the one objecting to unanimous consent requests to speed up the procedural clock on costly legislation.

Typically McConnell would allow Paul a vote on an amendment to offset the legislation in exchange for his agreement to move up the vote. With Paul under quarantine, McConnell likely won’t need to strike such a deal on the stimulus vote.

Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.