Trump Says Senators Can Be Tested as Lawmakers Prepare to Return

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(Bloomberg) -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected a White House offer of rapid coronavirus testing for lawmakers until “these speedier technologies become more widely available.”

In a joint statement, the pair said they were “grateful” for the offer but would “respectfully decline.”

“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,” Pelosi and McConnell said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and President Donald Trump earlier said that all U.S. senators would be able to be tested for the coronavirus as lawmakers prepare to return to Washington.

Azar tweeted the “good news” Friday night: “we have now received an initial request and are sending 3 Abbott point of care testing machines and 1,000 tests for their use.”

The New York Times reported that Congress’s attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that he didn’t have the capacity to test all 100 senators -- several of whom are elderly and considered at higher risk should they contract Covid-19.

Trump amplified Azar’s comment early Saturday, saying on Twitter that there’s “tremendous” testing capacity for lawmakers and that the House should also return to work.

Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and those around them are tested regularly for the coronavirus.

Leaders of the 435-member House of Representatives on Tuesday scrapped a plan to return to work in Washington next week, citing the continued risk from the spread of the virus.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Friday asked Monahan and the House chief administrative officer to share guidance on how best to reopen the U.S. House and Capitol.

Hoyer wrote that detailed plans are needed about the provision of supplies to disinfect surfaces, as well as information on how many staff members ought to return first in each office during a phased reopening.

When the House convened in late April to pass a $484 billion rescue plan to boost the U.S. economy, lawmakers entered the chamber under strict health precautions to guard against spreading any infection. Groups of 60 members, wearing masks, entered in alphabetical order to vote, then exited on the opposite side. The chamber was cleaned in between votes.

Washington, D.C., continues to see a rash of coronavirus cases. On Friday, 335 new infections were reported, the highest day of confirmed positives in the nation’s capital. Adjacent areas of Maryland and Virginia have also been hard hit.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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