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Should the Capitol start COVID-19 testing for staff and members?

Chris Cioffi, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- 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.

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