Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a rare letter jointly rejecting the Trump administration’s offer to supply Capitol Hill with 1,000 rapid-result coronavirus tests, asking that they be prioritized for front-line workers.
The decision by the leaders Saturday to turn down the Trump administration’s offer came as the United States neared 66,000 coronavirus-related deaths and at least a dozen states had their first weekend of loosened restrictions.
The Capitol’s attending physician, Brian Monahan, had told Senate staffers Thursday that limited testing capacity meant only lawmakers and staff with symptoms could get tested, and that they would need to wait several days for results.
The Senate is set to return to Washington on Monday to a city still on lockdown amid growing death rates. McConnell’s decision to call senators back to Washington while the city is effectively shut down has been controversial. Pelosi has refused to do the same.
The tests offered by the Trump administration could have allowed lawmakers and some staffers to preemptively check for the novel coronavirus and know the results within minutes.
“There is tremendous CoronaVirus testing capacity in Washington for the Senators returning to Capital (sic) Hill on Monday. Likewise the House, which should return but isn’t because of Crazy Nancy P. The 5 minute Abbott Test will be used,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning.
But McConnell and Pelosi agreed the tests should be reserved for those who needed them most.
“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,” they wrote. “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.”
They added that Monahan would use the older testing until “these speedier technologies become more widely available.”
Responding to a tweet by McConnell, Trump decried the decision and disparaged the Capitol Hill doctor and derided Pelosi.
“No reason to turn it down, except politics,” Trump tweeted. “We have plenty of testing. Maybe you need a new Doctor over there. Crazy Nancy will use it as an excuse not to show up to work!”
A senior Democratic aide on Capitol Hill said no request for rapid tests was made by leaders of either chamber or by Monahan. They learned about the administration’s offer like the rest of the world: by tweet.
“No one asked for this,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly.
The tweet came from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who late Friday first shared plans to send Congress three rapid-results machines with the ability to conduct 1,000 tests.
The White House uses these tests on anyone meeting with Trump or Vice President Pence, but most health-care workers and first responders don’t have access to them.
Of the top four congressional leaders, only House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has been tested because of his attendance at a White House event with Trump when they had instituted a policy of testing those in proximity to the president.
Pelosi, 80, McConnell, 78, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), 69, have not been tested, according to their aides.
The limited testing available for Congress is a microcosm of the broader issue of insufficient capacity across the country.
Until there is a vaccine, public health experts have said, one of the best ways to contain the virus is with robust testing to determine where outbreaks are occurring.
But the United States is at minimum weeks away from having enough tests to provide any American who wanted one, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, said last week. He has also called for at least doubling the number of tests being performed before reopening the country.
More than a dozen states have nevertheless begun to relax coronavirus restrictions. Several others are set to reopen or lift stay-at-home orders next week.
Florida’s stay-at-home order expires Monday, and restaurants and retail will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity everywhere except for in the heavily populated Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Other states reopening businesses and loosening restrictions Monday include West Virginia, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Indiana.
Protests against stay-at-home orders and other lockdowns continued across the country. In a city in Oklahoma, which has allowed restaurants, movie theaters and gyms to reopen, the mayor of Stillwater withdrew a requirement that people wear masks inside reopened stores and restaurants amid threats of violence and physical abuse directed at employees, according to a statement from the city manager.
“I hate that our businesses and their employees had to deal with abuse today, and I apologize for putting them in that position,” Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce said in a statement. “I am not the kind of person who backs down from bullies, but I also will not send someone else to fight the battle for me.”
In California, protesters demanding to “Fully Open California” organized to gridlock traffic in Laguna Beach. Protesters continued their rally on the shore and even entered the water.
Thousands gathered at beaches in California last weekend, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to close those in Orange County and cities to launch legal challenges that a judge denied.
Protesters also gathered Saturday in the capitals of Nevada, Kentucky and Oregon.
An armed group broke through the fence at the governor’s mansion in Carson City, Nev. The #ReOpenNevada protests were an objection to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s extension of the state’s stay-at-home orders until at least May 15. Protesters reached the governor’s door, chanting, “USA, USA,” and holding a sign that read, “Trust Trump.”
That date is also when the federal government’s social distancing guidance expires, which Trump said this week will not be extended.
Marisa Iati and Candace Buckner contributed to this report.
I’m an Activist. I love justice and equality, love beyond colors, and oneness that transcends borders. Welcome to my world.