Proving COVID-19 is nonpartisan, Florida Republican Jose Diaz-Balart and Utah Democrat Ben McAdams have both tested positive for the coronavirus.
Both lawmakers announced their infection and quarantine on Tuesday night. Both were voting in Congress on Friday the 13th when they voted for the stimulus bill the Senate passed on Tuesday.
Diaz-Balart, 58, said he began to develop symptoms on Saturday, just hours after he left the House floor for a vote on a coronavirus response bill. More than 400 members of Congress also voted during the early-Saturday session. Diaz-Balart’s statement indicates he decided to “self-quarantine in Washington D.C.” after the vote. His statement doesn’t indicate why he believed he needed to self-quarantine before developing symptoms or whether he informed staff or other members of Congress that he might have exposed them to the illness.
McAdams, 45, also said his symptoms began mildly on Saturday night, after he had returned to Utah. He immediately began self-quarantining on the advice of his doctor.
“My symptoms got worse and I developed a fever, a dry cough and labored breathing and I remained self-quarantined,“ McAdams said in a statement. “On Tuesday, my doctor instructed me to get tested for COVID-19 and following his referral, I went to the local testing clinic for the test. Today I learned that I tested positive.“
When I heard these reports I immediately wondered whether plans had been made for Congress to convene via teleconference, like private companies are doing. The Washington Post looked into that, and alas, no, at least on the Senate side. However, there are some folks on the case:
Several Democrats have called for specific rule changes that would allow senators to work and vote from home, just as tens of millions of Americans are doing amid the pandemic outbreak of the deadly coronavirus. And Republicans, while not fully embracing the proposals, are raising fears that the economic recovery packages that are meant to deal with the virus have to be passed very quickly because the spread could make the Capitol uninhabitable.
Let's see if we can figure out who is impeding that effort.
“Here’s what it boils down to,” Durbin said. “Can we bring the United States Senate into the 21st century when it comes to voting? The standards that we are using are standards that date back to the writing of the Constitution. Present and voting. What is presence anymore?”
For now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has rejected the idea, believing that Congress can continue to function with revised social distancing features that will keep everyone safe.
“We’ll not be doing that. Look, there are a number of different ways to avoid getting too many people together,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday, suggesting that roll calls could be vastly extended to allow small groups to cast votes without crowding one another. “We will deal with the social distancing issue without fundamentally changing the Senate rules.”
This is absurd and dangerous. Both houses of Congress need to grapple with the fact that meeting in person could be deadly, and not just to Congress. I'm thinking about how it could pass from one house to the White House to the Supreme Court, where every member is at risk of death, some more than others.
They need to have a plan for virtual voting and debate, and sooner is better than later.