Rand Paul irks senators by mingling while waiting for virus results

Laura Litvan

Senator Rand Paul is defending himself after coming under fire for exposing other lawmakers to the coronavirus while he was awaiting his own test results – which turned out to be positive.

Paul, a physician and Kentucky Republican, was on Capitol Hill and went to the Senate gym Sunday before he learned that he was the first senator to be infected with Covid-19. That announcement prompted two other Republican senators – Mitt Romney and Mike Lee of Utah – to go into self-quarantine after spending time with Paul.

Paul, who voted against two emergency coronavirus spending bills this month, said in a Monday statement that he didn’t suspect he had the virus and was not showing symptoms when he was tested on March 16. He said he got tested as a precaution after traveling “extensively in the U.S.” and because he had part of one lung removed last year in surgery after he was attacked by a neighbor.

Paul also said he is a strong example of why more testing is needed.

“For those who want to criticize me for lack of quarantine, realize that if the rules on testing had been followed to a tee, I would never have been tested and would still be walking around the halls of the Capitol,” he said. “The current guidelines would not have called for me to get tested nor quarantined. It was my extra precaution, out of concern for my damaged lung, that led me to get tested.”

The Kentucky senator disclosed his positive virus diagnosis in a statement on his Twitter feed Sunday afternoon that said he was “asymptomatic and was tested out of an abundance of caution due to his travel and events.”

Exposing senators to the virus that has killed more than 400 people in the U.S. risks the health of lawmakers, many of whom are in the age group with the highest mortality rate.

And more Republican senators in quarantine changes Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vote-counting as he tries to pass a roughly $2 trillion economic rescue package as quickly as possible.

Along with Paul, Romney and Lee, Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Senator Rick Scott of Florida were already in self-quarantine after exposure to other individuals who tested positive.

One Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said Paul was “absolutely irresponsible” for being on Capitol Hill Sunday while awaiting his test results.

A spokesman for Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas confirmed that Moran had seen Paul at the gym on Sunday and he “shared this information” with other lawmakers at a luncheon for Senate Republicans on Sunday. The attending physician of the Capitol told Moran he didn’t need to self-quarantine, according to a statement from Tom Brandt, the senator’s press secretary.

A tweet later Sunday from Paul’s Twitter account defended him after the senator was widely criticized following a tweet from a Washington Post reporter saying that Moran saw Paul at the pool. The reporter also stated that Paul got his “results back this morning.” Paul’s office said Monday that he was at the gym before learning his test results.

The senator in his Monday afternoon statement said he doesn’t know how he may have contracted Covid-19, although he said he travels a lot and attends frequent events, just as other senators do. He said he had “zero contact” with two people who tested positive and were at a fundraiser he attended at a Louisville art museum March 7.

The Speed Art Museum says on its website that it is closed until March 31 “due to rising concerns for public health.”

Meanwhile on Monday, Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and former presidential candidate, said Monday that her husband tested positive for Covid-19 and was checked in to a hospital.

Klobuchar said she doesn’t plan to get tested since there is a shortage of tests and she hasn’t seen her husband in two weeks.

Paul is the first U.S. senator and third member of Congress known to have become infected. Representatives Mario Diaz Balart, a Florida Republican, and Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat, tested positive as well. McAdams has been in the hospital since Friday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Several Senate staff members also have confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Members of Congress must be present to vote, and current rules don’t allow remote voting – although pressure is mounting for that to change.