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Experts continue to say widespread testing needed while the Capitol physician says he doesn't have enough tests for 100 Senators.
02:47 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “respectfully” declined an offer from the Trump administration to deploy rapid coronavirus testing capabilities to Capitol Hill ahead of senators’ anticipated return to Washington in the coming week.

Instead, the two congressional leaders said they want “to keep directing resources to the front-line facilities” battling the Covid-19 outbreak and that lawmakers and congressional staff will use “current testing protocols that the Office of the Attending Physician has put in place until these speedier technologies become more widely available.”

“Congress is grateful for the Administration’s generous offer to deploy rapid COVID-19 testing capabilities to Capitol Hill, but we respectfully decline the offer at this time,” Pelosi and McConnell said in a joint statement issued Saturday. “Our country’s testing capacities are continuing to scale up nationwide and Congress wants to keep directing resources to the front-line facilities where they can do the most good the most quickly.”

President Donald Trump responded later on Saturday by chalking up the decision to politics.

“No reason to turn it down, except politics,” Trump tweeted. “We have plenty of testing. Maybe you need a new Doctor over there,” he added, before singling out Pelosi and saying she will “use it as an excuse not to show up to work!”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany responded to the joint statement Saturday, saying, “That’s their decision to make.”

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“The moment we heard about even an inquiry for having tests for Congress we acted and ensured that we would provide those tests if needed and wanted and it’s the decision of Leader McConnell and Speaker Pelosi to decline that offer,” McEnany continued.

CNN has reached out to HHS for comment on the statement.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced late Friday that 1,000 coronavirus tests will be available as members and staff return to Capitol Hill on Monday, after the Capitol physician earlier said testing for members would be limited.

“Good news: as the Senate reconvenes to do important work for the American people during this public health crisis, we have now received an initial request and are sending 3 Abbott point of care testing machines and 1,000 tests for their use,” Azar tweeted.

US senators and staff are set to return to work in Washington, DC, on Monday as their states continue to battle the coronavirus outbreak, creating anxiety and concern among members and staffers who feel their health is being put at risk. The number of coronavirus cases in the nation’s capital are still high and health experts have urged workers there to remain at home.

Many senators fall into the high-risk category for age and pre-existing conditions that make them vulnerable to coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Capitol attending physician Brian Monahan indicated on a private conference call Thursday that the Capitol lacks the capacity to regularly test all senators, saying that tests would only be made available to those who are sick, according to two sources familiar with the call.

The White House, in stark contrast, often conducts Covid-19 tests. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are tested regularly – more than weekly – for coronavirus, two senior administration officials told CNN. The White House also tests its senior officials and anyone who regularly comes in contact with the President, including weekly tests for McEnany, chief of staff Mark Meadows and vice presidential chief of staff Marc Short, the officials said.

The White House has been using the rapid Abbott Labs test, two people familiar told CNN.

On Twitter earlier Saturday, Trump assured that there is “tremendous CoronaVirus testing capacity in Washington” for senators returning Monday.

“Please inform Dr. Brian P. Monahan,” he added.

McConnell told Fox News in an interview Thursday that he believes the chamber can “conduct our business safely.” And Monahan on Friday released guidelines for how the Senate should operate, advising offices to limit the number of staff, avoid gatherings, screen visitors, wear face covers and social distance.

The Senate plans to consider more of Trump’s judicial nominees, which has prompted outcry from Democrats who argue that members should only be reconvening to focus on oversight of the coronavirus response and passing a new relief package.

The US House of Representatives – which has 435 members compared to 100 in the Senate – canceled its plans to return to Washington this upcoming week, with Democratic leadership citing guidance from Monahan. Pelosi had said earlier in the week that the chamber is “at the mercy of the virus” and that its schedule would depend on guidance from Monahan and the sergeant at arms.

Trump criticized Pelosi on Twitter earlier Saturday, saying the House should return.

This story has been updated to include a joint statement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, response from the White House and a tweet from the President.

CNN’s Ted Barrett, Manu Raju, Kristen Holmes, Kaitlan Collins, Sunlen Serfaty, Haley Byrd, Noah Broder, Jason Hoffman and Jamie Crawford contributed to this report.