Rep. Louie Gohmert’s positive coronavirus test this week raised questions about whether people in or around the Capitol should get regular testing — but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
“The Capitol physician has not said yet that he thinks that we should be tested,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday.
Pelosi said if testing were to take place on Capitol Hill, it wouldn’t be just for members of Congress, as “there are about 20,000 people who make the Capitol run.” One of the reasons people have continued to question whether lawmakers should be tested is their frequent travel from their districts and home states, something that distinguishes them from the vast majority of legislative branch employees.
Pelosi said it wouldn’t be up to her or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to have final sign-off: “It’s up to the Capitol physician.”
The issue got renewed relevance because Gohmert’s test came not from the Capitol but at the direction of the White House. The Texas Republican was scheduled to travel to Texas with President Donald Trump and was tested before being allowed to board Air Force One.
Gohmert, who turns 67 on Aug. 18, has frequently skipped wearing a mask around the Capitol complex and is one of several members who have contracted the virus. Earlier in July, Gohmert’s fellow House Freedom Caucus member, Morgan Griffith of Virginia, tested positive for coronavirus after showing symptoms.
Gohmert’s news caused a cascade of self-quarantines of people exposed to him, including Texas Republican Rep. Kay Granger, who sat next to Gohmert on a plane headed back to Washington from Texas last weekend. Granger’s spokeswoman on Friday said her boss tested negative.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters Wednesday that a White House offer initially made in the spring to provide the Capitol rapid COVID-19 testing equipment still stands.
“Hopefully, now that we’ve got our testing capabilities a lot more robust than they’ve ever been, they’ll take us up on that offer,” Meadows said.
Pelosi earlier this week mandated the wearing of masks both on the House floor and in House office buildings.
On the Senate side of the Capitol, McConnell told “PBS NewsHour” host Judy Woodruff that he’s not considering similar action in the Senate because “we’ve had good compliance with that on the Senate side without a mandate.”
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who tested positive for the coronavirus in the spring and does not wear a mask, has made claims as recently as this week that he’s now immune from getting it again. The CDC says people infected with similar viruses are “unlikely to be re-infected shortly” after recovery, but “more information is needed” to be sure.
Utah Republican Mike Lee has also been seen not wearing a mask, Newsweek reports.
Discussion on how to conduct testing on the Senate side is still occurring, said Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt, who has been advocating more testing of staff and members. He said there are conversations happening, and lawmakers will be trying to deal with it over the “next few days.”
Blunt — also chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — has championed a “Shark Tank”-style competition to accelerate testing technologies.
He said the attending physician has to be prepared “to be part of” discussions on testing, but he didn’t think the discussions were at the point where any decisions have been made on how frequently to test or whether those who travel more would get more frequent testing.
“I think it’s certainly reasonable that everyone who works in the Senate could be tested anytime they wanted to be, and on a fairly regular basis,” he said.