The virus is real and infections and exposures have consequences.
Even as many Republicans, including the leader of the party, try to pretend like the pandemic is either no big deal or even a hoax, the Senator Majority Leader knows better when it matters. NBC news reports: McConnell warns Republican senators to stay healthy or risk their lame-duck agenda.
The decision came after Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, 87, tested positive Tuesday. His absence, along with Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s quarantine due to Covid-19 exposure, scuttled a vote on Judy Shelton’s controversial nomination to sit on the Federal Reserve Board.
The Republican Senate leader told members in a closed-door lunch Tuesday to “be careful” and make sure they take the necessary precautions against catching the virus, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said.
Note that the GOP majority will shrink to 52 once they return from break, as Mark Kelly will take over for Martha McSally, since his election was a special election so he immediately takes possession of the seat to finish out the term.
As such, McConnell’s margins are small and even a handful of sick or quarantined Senators could scuttle his ability to legislate in the lame duck session.
There are a lot of items on McConnell’s agenda in the final weeks of the year, including passing a government funding bill by Dec. 11 to avoid a shutdown, trying to find agreement on coronavirus aid and approving final appointments before President-elect Joe Biden takes over the White House in January.
Overall, Capitol Hill does not sounds like a place doing enough in pandemic times:
And some rank-and-file Democratic senators and a bipartisan group of aides are growing more frustrated, concerned and confused with the lack of safety protocols on Capitol Hill, questioning both the Senate leadership and the attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, who has previously advised exposed senators against taking Covid-19 tests and quarantining. The Office of the Attending Physician has not replied to repeated requests for comment.
Aides say there are some efforts that could be taken to protect those in the Capitol, like contact tracing and publishing data about how many on the Hill have contracted the disease.
“It’s not safe here,” one Republican aide said, a sentiment echoed by numerous other aides of both parties. A Democratic aide said there is a sense of disappointment among Senate staffers who feel that the leadership and Office of the Attending Physician are not doing “the bare minimum,” like requiring mask wearing on the Senate floor.
An unusually tense exchange happened on the Senate floor Monday night when mask politics caused an eruption between Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. Brown asked Sullivan, who was presiding over the Senate, to wear his mask while speaking. Sullivan shot back, telling Brown “I don’t need your instruction.”
There is still no mask mandate in the Senate chamber (there is one on the House floor) or in the House and the Senate office buildings. Signs around the Senate office buildings suggest mask usage.
Quite frankly, there ought to be constant testing and contract tracing along the lines of what organizations like the NFL have done. We don’t need a massive outbreak in the center of our government, especially given the advanced ages of many of the members of congress.
Seven members of the House and one senator have tested positive for the virus this week alone. In total, at least three dozen lawmakers have contracted Covid-19 since the pandemic began, according to a tally by NBC News.
Update: I forgot to add the following, Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia is in isolation after testing positive for the virus.