Pelosi, who tested negative for the virus Friday, met in her speaker’s suite with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has regular contact with the president, for 90 minutes Wednesday. Mnuchin announced Friday morning he has tested negative for the disease.
Still, Trump’s positive test has set off a scramble inside the Capitol as lawmakers and aides work to determine who may be in danger after being exposed to those in the president’s orbit. And the news has set off a new round of questioning about why congressional leaders continue to refuse to implement a testing system for the Capitol complex, which encompasses hundreds of lawmakers and thousands of aides and support staff.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the Senate to develop a testing and contact tracing program on Friday.
“We simply cannot allow the administration’s cavalier attitude to adversely affect this branch of government,” Schumer said. “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.”
Some Republicans groused that the Senate’s testing regime and schedule needed to be reevaluated. One Republican aide called the lack of tests “ridiculous,” while another said the Senate should not come into session next week: “We cannot afford to have half the caucus get sick right before the Barrett hearings. “ Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, both members of the Judiciary Committee, said Friday that they tested positive for coronavirus and will quarantine for 10 days.
While some influential Senate Republicans have also stumped for a comprehensive testing program in the Capitol, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have so far rejected it. That makes it difficult to know at the moment whether the spread of coronavirus has breached the Capitol, particularly after the Senate adjourned for the weekend and sent senators back to their home states across the country. The House held votes on Friday, though members were allowed to vote by proxy.
Moreover, Barrett has met with roughly two dozen senators since being introduced by Trump last weekend. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and counsel Pat Cipollone have attended these meetings; neither they nor Barrett have tested positive at this time. Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, said Barrett is tested daily for coronavirus and received a negative result Friday morning.
On Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, McConnell said on Friday that he didn’t know whether any senators had the virus right now, and emphasized the importance that lawmakers follow public health guidelines. He said some of Barrett’s hearing is likely to be conducted remotely and that Trump’s diagnosis “underscores that the coronavirus is not concerned about” the election.
“It can sneak up on you as it did with the president and the first lady. So we’re keeping an eye on everyone,” McConnell said.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) rejected McConnell’s characterization. He noted the White House “has had multiple positive cases, including several people who have direct contact with Trump” and that the president still refused to wear a mask in private and public meetings.
McConnell did not commit to holding a vote on Barrett before the election, though that is his members’ stated goal. After speaking with Trump by phone, McConnell tweeted that the Senate will move “full steam ahead” on the nomination, with hearings in the Judiciary Committee scheduled to begin Oct. 12. A Republican aide confirmed there are no changes to Barrett’s schedule. The Senate will convene on Monday afternoon to vote on lower-level judicial nominees.
At an event in Kentucky later Friday, McConnell indicated again that he saw no change in plans for the Senate schedule.
“So far, the disease has not kept us from operating as we would normally and there’s no reason to expect that to be the case in the foreseeable future,” he said.
Given the number of meetings top Senate and House members have at the White House with his president and his staff, the diagnosis of the president and his aides at a minimum highlights the risk to a Capitol filled with lawmakers in their 70s and 80s particularly susceptible to the deadly pandemic’s effects.
And it’s not just congressional leaders, like Pelosi and McConnell, who have interacted with Trump aides this week.