Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a rare letter jointly rejecting the Trump administration’s offer to supply Capitol Hill with 1,000 rapid-result coronavirus tests, asking that they are prioritised for front-line workers.
The decision by the leaders Saturday to turn down the Trump administration’s offer came as the United States neared 66,000 coronavirus-related deaths and at least a dozen states had their first weekend of loosened coronavirus-related restrictions.
The Capitol’s attending physician, Brian Monahan, had told Senate staffers Thursday that limited testing capacity meant only lawmakers and staff with symptoms could get tested, and that they would need to wait several days for results.
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The Senate is set to return to Washington on Monday to a city still on lockdown amid growing death rates. McConnell’s decision to call senators back to Washington while the District of Columbia is effectively shut down has been controversial. Pelosi has refused to do the same.
The tests offered by the Trump administration could have allowed lawmakers and some staff to preemptively check for the coronavirus and know the results within minutes.
“There is tremendous Coronavirus testing capacity in Washington for the Senators returning to Capitol 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,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning.
But McConnell and Pelosi agreed the tests should be reserved for those who needed them most.
“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,” they 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.”
They added that Monahan would use the older testing until “these speedier technologies become more widely available”.
A senior Democratic aide on Capitol Hill said no request for rapid tests was made by leaders of either chamber or by Monahan. They learned about the administration’s offer like the rest of the world: by tweet.
“No one asked for this,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly.
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