(CBS)-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a rare joint statement on Saturday declining President Trump’s offer to provide rapid coronavirus testing for senators returning to the Capitol next week. The statement said that “Congress wants to keep directing resources to the frontline facilities.”
“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,” McConnell and Pelosi 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.”
“Consistent with CDC guidelines, Congress will use the current testing protocols that the Office of the Attending Physician has put in place until these speedier technologies become more widely available,” the statement continued.
The Associated Press reported that Capitol attending physician Brian Monahan told GOP officials earlier this week that his office did not have the resources to provide rapid testing for every senator returning to the Capitol. The Senate will reconvene on Monday, and will implement social distancing measures. The House will not be returning to the Capitol, on Monahan’s recommendation.
The Office of the Attending Physician distributed guidelines to Senate offices on Friday encouraging senators to take measures such as minimizing the number of staff in the work center and cleaning work spaces regularly. These guidelines are based on best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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,” McConnell 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.”
Mr. Trump made his offer to senators in a tweet on Saturday morning, slamming Pelosi for her decision not to reconvene the House and calling her “crazy.”
“There is tremendous CoronaVirus testing capacity in Washington for the Senators returning to Capital 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. Please inform Dr. Brian P. Monahan,” Mr. Trump wrote, referring to a rapid-response test developed by the company Abbott.
Democratic senators have expressed frustration about returning to the Capitol despite these risks. Senator Tim Kaine said in an interview with MSNBC Friday that McConnell was “endangering the lives of many, many people.” Kaine added that he would not bring his staff back to the Capitol, saying that doing so would “violate a public health order.” Washington, D.C. has a stay-at-home order in place until May 15.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin also expressed concerns about returning to the Capitol in a statement on Thursday.
“Some of these Senators will return from COVID-19 “hotspots” and others are battling cancer and considered especially high risk,” Manchin said. He criticized McConnell for not bringing the Senate back to work on coronavirus response legislation, but accused him of reconvening for the purpose of pushing through President Trump’s nominations.
“It is shameful that Mitch McConnell is calling the U.S. Senate back to DC to vote on confirmation of his unqualified judge and nominees unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am eager to go back to Washington to work on the challenges our country faces with COVID-19 and the economy but not for McConnell’s personal agenda,” Manchin said.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled confirmation hearings for Mr. Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, to begin next week.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Senate Republicans to conduct oversight hearings about the coronavirus response, instead of “confirming right-wing judges or protecting big business from legal liability.”
Congressional Democrats and Republicans have clashed over the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation, as Democrats are insisting on more assistance for state and local governments and Republicans are asking for liability protections for affected businesses.