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Rodney Davis maintains opposition to proxy voting after positive COVID-19 test

Illinois Republican got tested after his twice-daily temperature check produced a reading that was higher than normal

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., participates in a conference call while sitting in Statuary Hall in the Capitol on July 21, 2020.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., participates in a conference call while sitting in Statuary Hall in the Capitol on July 21, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Three months ago, House Administration ranking member Rodney Davis led the GOP opposition to Democrats’ proxy voting rule that allows members to cast votes from their districts during the pandemic. Now the Illinois Republican, stuck quarantining at home after a positive COVID-19 test, will likely miss his opportunity to vote on the next coronavirus relief package because he opposes the only mechanism for him to safely do so.

Davis announced Wednesday that he tested positive for COVID-19, a test he sought after his twice-daily temperature check produced a reading that was higher than normal. Appearing on CNN on Thursday morning, Davis said his temperature usually reads around 97 degrees, but Wednesday morning it was 99 degrees.  

“Because I had a bunch of public events planned over the next couple of days, I went ahead and went up to a rapid-scan testing facility we have in our district, got tested, and surprisingly I tested positive,” he said.

Davis said in the statement announcing his diagnosis that he planned to continue serving his constituents “virtually from home while I quarantine.”

[Riggleman, Davis join list of 10 most vulnerable House members]

The House is out of session but is expected to be called back to vote as soon as next week on a coronavirus relief bill that negotiators are debating. If a bipartisan deal is reached in time for the House to vote in the next 10 days, which is the quarantine period the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended for someone who tests positive for the virus and doesn’t develop symptoms, Davis will not be able to attend.

The only way Davis could cast a vote is if he designates a colleague to serve as his proxy, but he has vehemently opposed that process as the top Republican on the House Administration Committee.

“Not only does this proposal violate the Constitution, but it takes away the voice of the American people. Our constituents elected us to represent their interests in Congress, not to hand over our votes on crucial legislation,” Davis said in a statement on May 26 after he and other Republicans filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the proxy voting rule.

On Thursday, a federal judge in Washington dismissed the lawsuit. District Judge Rudolph Contreras found that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other defendants are immune from the lawsuit under the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution.

A spokesperson for Davis confirmed he would not be using a proxy if the House votes while he is quarantining. The only other members of Congress known to be quarantining because of a positive coronavirus test are Texas GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert and Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva.  

Gohmert tested positive on July 29, and if he remains symptom-free, his 10-day quarantine period will be up before next week, the earliest the House is expected to return.

Grijalva tested positive on Aug. 1 and would be done quarantining if he remains symptom-free so long as the House doesn’t vote Monday. But he is not opposed to voting by proxy, having already designated Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill., to serve as his proxy. Grijalva and Gohmert had contact during a Natural Resources Committee hearing.

Republican Reps. Mike Johnson of Louisiana and Kay Granger of Texas also quarantined after learning of Gohmert’s diagnosis because of contact they had with him. Both members tested negative.

Until Gohmert’s diagnosis, only Democrats used the proxy system. Afterward, Florida Rep. Francis Rooney became the first Republican to vote by proxy. No other Republicans have indicated they will utilize proxies.

Davis said he doesn’t know where he contracted the virus, but the Capitol physician told him he likely caught it in the 48 hours before his diagnosis.

“I was doing open office hours with constituents in different communities throughout my district, taking what I thought were all the safety precautions during those days,” he said on CNN. “Obviously, I didn’t do enough. I picked it up somewhere.”

His statement said his office was contacting the constituents with whom he met during those 48 hours. Davis’ wife and staff who had worked with him in person all tested negative.  

Contrast with Gohmert

Davis and Gohmert provided contrasting examples of their approach to the pandemic.

Gohmert often walked the Capitol grounds without a face mask, although he noted he increased his use of masks in the days leading up to his positive test, while Davis consistently wore his.

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Neither Davis nor Gohmert exhibited noticeable symptoms. Gohmert learned he had the virus because he had to get tested ahead of a planned trip to Texas with President Donald Trump.

Davis said he showed no symptoms other than his elevated temperature. He told CNN he felt fine, although the anchor pointed out that he had a hoarse voice that could be a symptom of the virus.  

“I do my best like everybody does to be vigilant,” Davis said. “Obviously, we’re never perfect. But in the end I found that a protocol of taking my temperature with the same thermometer so you can identify when there are spikes or decreases has really helped.”

After Gohmert tested positive for the virus, Davis reportedly advised House Republicans during a conference meeting to be vigilant about taking their temperatures.

Temperature checks have become a common screening tool for public gatherings — the House Republican Conference has been using them since they resumed in-person meetings last month — but the generic cutoff for determining if someone has a fever is a reading of 100.4 degrees or higher, according to the CDC.

“At a 99-degree temp, I would have been let in any government building or medical facility without question,” Davis said.

The flaws of temperature testing are among the reasons Davis and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have called for rapid testing for members, as well as essential staff and the media who continue to work on Capitol Hill.

“They deserve testing capabilities too, and right now on Capitol Hill we don’t have any, and it’s a travesty,” Davis said.

Pelosi has deferred to the Office of the Attending Physician the decision on implementing regular testing for members, staff and others on campus. The Capitol physician does have tests available for members who need them.

“There are about 20,000 people who make the Capitol run,” the California Democrat said at her weekly news conference last week. “And the Capitol Physician has not said yet that he thinks that we should be tested.”

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt on Thursday told reporters he’s putting together a plan that would allow the Senate to conduct rapid testing and he hopes the House would follow suit.

“I think the House thinks they have greater complications than maybe we think we do,” the Missouri Republican said.

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