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McConnell and Pelosi ‘respectfully decline’ rapid COVID-19 tests for Congress

Senate set to return Monday with special procedures in place

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, together with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has declined the administration’s offer to provide Congress with rapid COVID-19 testing.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, together with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has declined the administration’s offer to provide Congress with rapid COVID-19 testing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed Saturday to reject an offer from the Trump administration to provide Congress with rapid-results testing for COVID-19, saying those tests should go where there is a greater need.

“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,” the two leaders said in a joint statement. “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.”

McConnell and Pelosi said Congress will rely on the Office of the Attending Physician’s testing procedures until “these speedier technologies become more widely available.”

The Senate is scheduled to return to Capitol Hill on Monday, despite the continued stay-at-home order in place for Washington, D.C. While lawmakers and staff will not have access to the rapid-response tests offered by the White House, the Office of the Attending Physician released additional safety guidelines Friday.

In a seven-page memo, the OAP recommends — but will not require — that lawmakers and staff wear face coverings when they return to the Capitol campus. It specifies that Capitol Police will not be enforcing the mask guidance, but if a visitor isn’t following a policy set by an office, Capitol Police can be called to assist with removal of that person from an office.

The guidelines also encourage lawmakers, committees and other offices to limit the amount of staff on the Hill and to telework as much as possible. Staff are being encouraged to stagger lunch breaks, to keep traffic in the cafeterias spread out. The OAP is also encouraging people coming to work on Capitol Hill to check their temperature before heading in.

In a statement earlier this week, McConnell said some “practical questions” about maintaining safety would be addressed Senate-wide, while others would be resolved on an office-by-office basis.

“I strongly urge my colleagues to consult these guidelines as we carefully resume in-person work,” the Kentucky Republican said. “I look forward to seeing my colleagues on Monday. We will continue to stand together for the American people — even as we stand six feet apart.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that after consulting with the attending physician and reviewing COVID-19 data for Washington and the surrounding counties in Virginia and Maryland, Democratic leaders in the House did not feel comfortable bringing lawmakers back to the Capitol on May 4 for regular business. A return date has not yet been set for the chamber.

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