Still no Capitol testing regimen, despite lawmaker pressure

Judiciary Committee Dems ask for delay in hearings until tests are in place

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in this archive photo. On Friday Bost announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in this archive photo. On Friday Bost announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 9, 2020 at 4:39pm

Lawmakers continued to press for widespread testing in the Capitol complex Friday as another member announced they had contracted COVID-19.

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters on a press call that he had not heard any reports of progress on Senatewide testing and called it “an abomination.” Murphy, the ranking Democrat on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, said, “The cost is likely negligible in the grand scheme of things. So the issue here is not, is not, cost. The issue is a Republican Senate majority that just doesn’t want to let people know the extent of the spread in the White House, and in their caucus.”

Murphy’s call for more testing comes as another member of Congress, Illinois Republican Rep. Mike Bost, said the COVID-19 test he sought after experiencing symptoms was positive.

Bost said he will be quarantining and his office will reach out to any constituents that he’s met with in recent days. All public events will be postponed, he said, but Bost “will continue conducting virtual meetings as I isolate at home.”

Bost joins several other members, including Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who announced recent positive tests. Lee and Tillis attended a White House Rose Garden event last month and were spotted sitting close to other lawmakers and members of the Trump administration.

At least two dozen people in attendance — including President Donald Trump, members of Trump’s inner circle, press covering the event and military personnel — tested positive within days of the event to officially announce Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in his home state of Kentucky on Thursday that he keeps in touch with Trump but has avoided the White House since Aug. 6.

“Because my impression was their approach to how to handle this is different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing,” McConnell told reporters.

The Senate was expected to be in session this week, but McConnell asked for a two-week recess Monday after the positive tests in the GOP caucus and amid broader concerns about a wider outbreak at the White House.

Since the virus emerged in the U.S. in February, there has been no widespread testing regimen on the Hill, and the logistics of testing the thousands of people who work around the complex indicate the complicated problem may not be easily solved.

Lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill have been able to access recently expanded on-site COVID-19 testing through the Office of the Attending Physician. But at least 123 legislative branch employees or contractors have tested positive, or are presumed to have been positive, for COVID-19.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called for more testing last week, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been calling for a more robust testing regimen for months.

With the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing for Barrett scheduled to begin Monday, three committee Democrats asked Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham to postpone the hearing unless testing procedures are in place.

“We urge you against unsafely moving forward with these hearings while no clear testing regime is in place to ensure that they do not become another super-spreader of this deadly virus,” Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California wrote, alluding to the White House Rose Garden event.

Lee and Tillis sit on the committee and are expected to appear in person for at least part of the proceedings.

Schumer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Rules and Administration Committee, filed a resolution Monday seeking to mandate a contact-tracing protocol for the Senate office buildings and the Senate wing of the Capitol.

Murphy criticized McConnell on Friday, saying that if he can’t set up a testing regimen in the Senate, “he can’t pat himself on the back for not going to the White House because the White House is infected.”

Murphy also pointed out that while lawmakers and staff may have access to testing through Congress’ internal medical office, there are still a lot of people in the complex who don’t have access.

“It is true that I can get a test anytime I want,” Murphy said. “But the cafeteria workers can’t, the janitorial staff can’t, and we know that dozens of them have already recorded positive tests. And with multiple senators who were walking around the building two weeks ago while positive — well, likely positive — there could have been a massive spread throughout the facility.”

Katherine Tully-McManus, Chris Marquette and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.