Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, questions Attorney General William Barr during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the oversight of the Department of Justice on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, July 28, 2020 in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Pool via AP)
GOP lawmaker blames mask for positive Covid-19 test
03:12 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

In light of Rep. Louie Gohmert’s Covid-19 diagnosis, a handful of lawmakers are speaking out that they’d like to see leadership allow for a more robust testing regimen on Capitol Hill, especially as lawmakers are working to pass another stimulus bill.

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of leadership, told reporters that he’s pressed leaders and the Capitol physician’s office in the last several hours about how to mitigate risk of members getting off “about a thousand different airplanes” every week.

“We have the space for it,” Blunt said. “I think we could find a place to do it. I think we could do it in a way that every member of the Senate, staff got a test every couple weeks or a month and everyone traveling got one every time they traveled.”

Back in early May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined an offer from the Trump administration to have rapid testing system on Capitol Hill. At the time, McConnell and Pelosi said jointly, “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. 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.”

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Asked if there was a different dynamic than in May when leaders declined the offer of additional testing on the Hill, Blunt said, “You mean the Louie Gohmert dynamic?”

“Everyone who is traveling who works for the Congress gets one every time they travel and everyone else who works for the Congress gets one as often as the Capitol physician or their employer thinks (they) should get one,” he said.

A growing chorus of lawmakers say that Gohmert’s diagnosis could be a sign that it is time for lawmakers to have greater access to tests, especially with both the House and Senate back in session.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that “testing would be critical” at the Capitol “because people can be here and have it and would not know,” like Gohmert. The California Republican added that the “press should be tested,” too.

“We should have testing” at the Capitol and “members should wear their masks,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill. Pelosi announced a new requirement Wednesday for House lawmakers to wear masks on the chamber floor, though that did not apply to the office buildings or the nearby hallways.

Two GOP aides who were in proximity to Gohmert were only as of Wednesday evening able to get in line for Covid-19 tests. One said it had taken all day for reasons unknown, adding it’s been “frustrating and a waste of a day.”

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said, “We should be tested when we go home so we are not carriers coming back and forth. I have said for weeks that I think it is a good idea for us to be tested.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia who had tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in May, told CNN that it’s time for rapid testing on Capitol Hill, especially while members are in the throes of negotiations.

“I got it up here on Capitol Hill when we were doing the CARES Act, and I’m mindful that we should be buckling down and trying to get a bill done, but that puts people at risk. Why not have good testing as we are here trying to find a path forward for the country? I do think this is frontline stuff for the next few weeks. Testing should be available for people,” Kaine said.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also argued that more testing should be available on Capitol Hill. “Yes! Test! There should be more testing all over the country. How about that? Really, I am a big fan of testing. I don’t like it, but I’m a big fan of it,” she said.

Still, some members worry about the public perception of Congress having access to rapid testing when lag times across the country for results are days or weeks. Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, said he didn’t think Congress was “all that special.”

“You know, I don’t think that Capitol Hill is all that special in that sense necessarily,” Cramer said. “But I think if people feel they need to be tested a lot, they should be able have that available to them. I don’t feel that need to be tested all the time. I don’t know that a congressman or a senator is any more important than anyone else with regard to testing. If one more person that’s got symptoms need testing, I’d hate for me to take that test when I’m feeling perfectly fine.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.