Second House member tests positive for coronavirus

Daniel Flatley and Billy House
Bloomberg News

Two members of the U.S. House announced Wednesday that they tested positive for the coronavirus as the government tries to mitigate its spread and soften the economic fallout.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, developed symptoms over the weekend and has been working from an apartment in Washington while in quarantine, according to a statement from his office.

A short time later, U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat, said that he, too, had tested positive.

In this Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, file photo, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference in Miami. Diaz-Balart has become the first known member of Congress to test positive for the new coronavirus, he announced Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

Diaz-Balart, 58, began to feel ill with a fever and a headache after the House voted Saturday on a package of measures to respond to the spreading virus, which has brought the economy almost to a halt.

“I want everyone to know that I am feeling much better,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement. “However, it is important that everyone take this extremely seriously and follow CDC guidelines in order to avoid getting sick and mitigate the spread of this virus.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Lousiana, the chamber’s Republican whip, said that he quarantined himself after learning that Diaz-Balart had tested positive. Scalise, who recovered after being shot in the hip at a congressional baseball practice in 2017, said he did not have any symptoms.

Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat, said that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, a Georgia Republican, also said that he was in self-quarantine after being contacted by Congress’s Office of the Attending Physician that another House member had tested positive. It’s unclear how many other members got the same warning.

More members of Congress self-quarantining or testing positive would complicate efforts to pass the next round of fiscal stimulus that is already being negotiated. The Senate is in Washington, and the House was scheduled to be back in session next week.

Diaz-Balart, who lives in Miami, was first elected to the House in 2002, and before that served in the Florida Legislature. He didn’t return to Florida following the House vote Saturday because his wife, Tia, has pre-existing conditions that put her at “exceptionally high risk,” his office said.

McAdams, 45, a former mayor of Salt Lake City who was elected to Congress in 2018, said in a statement that he “developed mild, cold-like symptoms” on Sunday after returning from Washington. He then came down with a fever and his breathing became labored.

“Today, I learned that I tested positive,” he said, adding that he remains in quarantine and is working by phone.

The Senate Wednesday approved the bill the House passed Saturday, and President Donald Trump signed it into law. It includes paid sick leave, food assistance for vulnerable populations and financial help for coronavirus testing. It’s the second spending bill related to the virus and Congress is already at work on the third bill, which is estimated to cost $1.3 trillion.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate won’t adjourn until they vote on the third spending bill, telling senators to stay “close” as the body is “moving rapidly because the situation demands it.”

On Monday, some members of the House Democratic Caucus urged their party leaders to consider remote voting during the crisis, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposed that, according to multiple persons on that call. Instead, party leaders are considering letting members vote in smaller, staggered groups on the House floor.

Several congressional staffers also have tested positive for the virus.