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Sure Feels Like Someone in Congress Is Going to Die From COVID

How could these people — with the power do actually do something — be so reckless?

Senators including Patrick Leahy, Chuck Schumer, Pat Roberts, Mitch McConnell, Lisa Murkowski, Don Young, and Chuck Grassley
Senators at a portrait unveiling in October 2019.
sendansullivan/Flickr

In this past week, at least seven members of Congress and one member-elect have tested positive for COVID. At least 28 current members have been diagnosed with COVID since March, a majority of them Republicans.

I guess this apparent spike in congressional cases is to be expected when you’ve got members like Sen. Ted Cruz calling Sen. Sherrod Brown a “complete ass” for asking another senator to put on their mask, and Q-Anon affirming Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene preaching to the sheeple about how the masks are rotting our brains, and Nancy Pelosi, only canceling an in-person new member dinner after being rightfully shamed on Twitter for putting on such an event.

Expected, but unfortunate nonetheless. Because this behavior indicates to me that at least one of these very, very old elected officials is likely to die from it.

I’m not wishing a COVID death on anyone, but the incredible failure of Congress to deal with this disease, either internally or for the country as a whole, means that our leading politicians are putting themselves in real danger. At this point, it feels like when, not if.

According to GovTrack and NPR, the following members of Congress have been diagnosed with COVID in this past week, as of Wednesday, Nov. 18:

  • Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley – Quarantined Nov. 17
  • Washington Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse – Quarantined Nov. 17
  • Colorado Democrat Rep. Ed Perlmutter – Quarantined Nov. 17
  • Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn – Quarantined Nov. 16
  • Illinois Democrat Rep. Cheri Bustos – Quarantined Nov. 16
  • Michigan Republican Rep. Tim Walberg – Quarantined Nov. 15
  • Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young – Quarantined Nov. 12

This is bad enough, but of course these seven people may have been able to pass the virus to other members. From the New York Times, following Grassley’s diagnosis:

Over the loud objections of Republicans, House Democrats created a proxy-voting system that they announced this week would be in effect through the end of the year, but Senate Republicans have yet to impose any alternative to voting in person on the floor.

The two chambers have never reconciled their varying positions on whether masks should be required while voting. They are required on the floor of the Democratic-led House, but they are only strongly recommended in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The proxy system has been in effect since this May, but this week 40 more members have taken advantage of proxy voting, all of them Democrats. Of the members listed above, Lamborn, Walberg and Young weren’t present to vote on Monday and aren’t listed on the GovTrack site as having proxies, while Bustos began voting by proxy.

However, Grassley, Newhouse and Perlmutter were physically present in their respective chambers on Monday. The latter two were at the very least on the House floor, where masks are mandatory. Still, it’s not a good situation.

And might I just take a moment to point out that Grassley and Young, who was hospitalized last weekend, are 87 years old. 87!!!!!! Newhouse is 65, Perlmutter is 67, Lamborn is 66, Bustos is 59, and Walberg is 69. So almost all of them are within this very unsafe age range to be getting COVID. But JESUS, for Grassley’s age he probably shouldn’t have been acting as if this was business as usual. From the Washington Post, emphasis mine:

Now, as nationwide coronavirus infections reach a new peak, that caution has been largely abandoned by senators of both parties, who could be seen on the floor all this week engaged in extended private conversations at close quarters.

Most wore masks — including Grassley on Monday as he descended to the well, cast his vote, then exchanged a friendly pat with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). Earlier, however, Grassley was maskless as he fulfilled his usual duties as president pro tempore, gaveling the Senate to order and leading the Pledge from the rostrum, perched just above the seats of several clerks.

What are these people thinking!! They are the perfect vectors for this virus and yet, they’re just working indoors without masks on!!! It’s not just Grassley—fellow very old person Dianne Feinstein has been spotted without a mask on too. No!

I’d say they probably need to follow some sort of doctor’s orders, except the congressional attending physician, Brian P. Monahan, seems to be a little aloof about this whole potential transmission thing. From the Post, again:

Aides who have been in contact with Monahan’s office, and spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the privacy of affected senators, said they were told their contact with Grassley was too fleeting to require quarantine.

[…]

Monahan told Manchin that “because the interaction was brief and masked, there was little to no risk of transmission,” Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon said. “Senator Manchin continues to wear masks in public and practice social distancing as advised by” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, Monahan seems, uhh, less than reliable when it comes to deeming which kinds of Congressional activity are safe to attend in person. For example, also according to the Post, Pelosi cited Monahan’s advice in defending her planned new House member dinner. House Republicans canceled their similar new member dinner, replacing it with a, LOL, “abbreviated happy hour that seated two attendees each at 45 mini-tables,” according to a different Post piece.

House Republicans also held their in-person leadership election on Tuesday with 200 people in attendance, under Monahan’s guidelines. And while Monahan’s office began providing rapid COVID tests to returning lawmakers and staff this week, it’s only voluntary. Even when you think they can’t possibly be reckless enough to be taking these risks with their significantly older membership, Congress seems to have the full approval from the one person who’s supposed to be preventing a mass outbreak.

And so, all of these things considered, I am almost sure that at least one of these people is going to die, despite the many, many levels of precaution afforded to them as elected federal officials. Many Democrats have opted to avoid this hellish situation altogether and vote via proxy (so far 65 of them are) but Republicans, instead of embracing the chance to avoid getting COVID, have sued and loudly booed over the system. They’re not making sure people get tested. They’re not mandating masks while indoors. They’re still having in-person committee meetings and group lunches, and all of the other behavior that falls in line with believing that you’re immune. The Republicans, especially, are more afraid of looking weak than of potentially dying from COVID.

According to the NPR tracker, at least 18 Senate Republicans have either been diagnosed with COVID or have had to go into quarantine — HELL, Ted Cruz himself has had to quarantine TWICE, as have Mike Lee and Ron Johnson, who both ended up getting diagnosed the second time around. (Though all of this that doesn’t make Democrats immune, either, just given Pelosi’s poor leadership in contrast with her branding them the “party of science.”) Just how many times must these people be forced into quarantine before realizing that they’re not immortal, and that maybe this thing isn’t at harmless as they wanted it to be??? Does it really come down to a colleague’s death to deliver that wake-up call? More than 250,000 people have died in the U.S. so far — why couldn’t any one of those people be enough for them to do something about it?

They had the ability to protect themselves — really, the ability to protect so many people — and they haven’t. It’s fucking grim, feeling like the people who are supposed to have our best interests in mind couldn’t even do the bare minimum to protect their own interests. I don’t know, but I feel incredibly lost recognizing this. There are already so many people who have died already, and not that my own personal world will be shattered should someone from Congress die, but I don’t see things getting better should that happen. It will be just Thoughts and Prayers part infinity for these people, and I’m at a loss for what will happen next.