WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several U.S. senators have urged congressional leaders to accept the White House’s offer of rapid coronavirus testing for lawmakers, saying they could otherwise unwittingly spread the disease when they returned to their home districts.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a rare joint statement on Saturday declining the offer for 1,000 rapid coronavirus testing kits, saying those were needed for front-line workers fighting the virus.
Some senators who returned to Washington this week said congressional leaders should rethink that decision - or find another way to deploy testing for lawmakers.
“Otherwise, we’re disease vectors,” said Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Senate Democrats.
King and Republican Senator Roy Blunt said they agreed with another Republican, Lamar Alexander, who raised the issue on Tuesday.
“Washington, D.C. is a hot spot, so if I went home tomorrow, I’d have to quarantine for 14 days under the policies of our governor,” King said.
The Senate came back into session this week after a recess of over a month because of the coronavirus. House members have not returned to work after the Capitol physician said he would not recommend it.
Blunt said on Wednesday that when he goes home to Springfield, Missouri, he gets on two different flights and goes through three different airports, coming in contact with many people.
“If I knew before I left that I had COVID-19 (the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus), I shouldn’t go,” Blunt said.
“I think that the speaker and the leaders should look at this, not from the point of view of special privilege for members, but a protection for all the people this unique set of travelers ... comes in contact with,” Blunt said.
A senior House Democratic aide said lawmakers should not be next in line for rapid-response tests when “there are certainly well-documented instances of some front-line workers not having access to slow tests, not to mention the rapid tests.”But Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said on Tuesday the United States would soon be able to test 2 million Americans each week. “This is enough to test 535 members of Congress each week before they go home to make sure they don’t spread the disease from a virus hot spot into every section of the country.”
Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney