As the coronavirus continues to exponentially spread across the United States as it has around the globe, the number of well-known people who it has infected or who have at the very least been exposed to someone with the virus has also continued to grow.
While the world reacted with shock after celebrities from actors like Idris Elba, Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson to TV stars like Andy Cohen and former Bachelor star Colton Underwood to musicians like opera tenor Placido Domingo, Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, and African saxophonist Manu Dibango announced their positive tests for the disease, the public mostly muttered “karma” to themselves at the news that convicted rapist and former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein had contracted the virus while in custody at Rikers Island prison in New York.
The virus has not spared Capitol Hill as numerous Republican politicians were forced into quarantine after exposure to an infected participant at the conservative Woodstock that is the CPAC conference that took place nearly three weeks ago now.
Among those who took precautions and thankfully sequestered themselves were Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL).
Today, however, it was announced that libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has tested positive for the disease and is now in quarantine, after having used both the Senate gym and swimming pool after he already suspected he may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. So much for that medical degree that you have, Senator Paul.
Can confirm that Sen. @JerryMoran briefly saw Sen. Rand Paul at the Senate gym this morning and that he shared this information with his colleagues during today’s policy meeting. This morning, Sen. Moran followed CDC guidelines and kept a safe distance between him and Sen. Paul.
— Tom Brandt (@tomwbrandt) March 22, 2020
Unfortunately and ironically, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) — who was notably disinvited from CPAC after having the courage to be the lone Republican voting in the affirmative for one of Trump’s articles of impeachment despite his conservative bona fides — had spent too much time sitting near Senator Paul recently as that silent disease carrier shed his viral load.
“Since Senator Romney sat next to Senator Paul for extended periods in recent days and consistent with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance, the attending physician has ordered him to immediately self-quarantine and not to vote on the Senate floor,” Romney’s office explained in a statement on today.
As of now, Senator Romney “has no symptoms but will be tested,” his office added.
President Trump was first informed of Senator Romney’s exposure by a reporter during his Sunday afternoon press conference on the federal response to the pandemic and, while he denied he was being sarcastic in his expression of regret at the news, his unfiltered reaction to Romney’s potential exposure seemed more like amused glee.
Trump says he's not eager to use the Defense Production Act because he doesn't want the USA to [checks notes] end up like Venezuela pic.twitter.com/sQn4CuGfaO
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 22, 2020
While Trump’s schadenfreude over Senator Romney’s sequester may have temporarily amused him, the sudden unavailability of a number of Republican senators has upset the balance of power in Congress, leaving only 48 GOP members in the Senate chamber compared to the Democrats’ 47 senators.
Since the Senate requires 60 votes to advance the legislation, this has made the passage of the Republican version of a coronavirus stimulus bill impossible without the cooperation of the Democrats and without some attention paid to the conditions that they wish to place on the use of the money to prevent corporations from using it to buy back stock rather than retain workers.
The paid absences by the missing Republican senators torpedoed GOP plans to ram through an aid package that would bail out giant corporations that have already been given trillions in tax cuts and would have given Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin an enormous slush fund to use at his discretion without congressional oversight and now gives Democrats more time to negotiate protections that would benefit the suffering average Americans rather than wealthy companies and the oligarchs who control them.
If we continue to lose Republican Senators from the halls of Congress at this rate, it may just be a great time for the House to reintroduce articles of impeachment. With the new, more even, playing field in the Senate and the examples of Trump’s massive failures to manage the pandemic crisis sending faith in the president’s leadership cratering, the results may be quite different this time around.
Original reporting by Jordain Carney at The Hill.