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Senate Republicans split on the need for coronavirus testing

Eighty-seven-year-old Sen. Chuck Grassley -- who as the most senior Republican in the chamber is third in the line of succession to the presidency -- will not be tested for coronavirus despite three of his GOP colleagues being positive and spending last week on Capitol Hill with the infected senators.

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Ali Zaslav
Ted Barrett, CNN
CNN — Eighty-seven-year-old Sen. Chuck Grassley -- who as the most senior Republican in the chamber is third in the line of succession to the presidency -- will not be tested for coronavirus despite three of his GOP colleagues being positive and spending last week on Capitol Hill with the infected senators.

"Sen. Grassley's doctors have not recommended he be tested as he has not come into close contact with anyone suspected of having or confirmed to have coronavirus," his aide Michael Zona said, suggesting that while Grassley was near and around those sick senators his contact with them was not close enough or long enough to warrant getting tested.

Grassley's decision is different than other top officials above and below him in the line of succession -- like Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and key members of the President's Cabinet -- who are being tested regularly, especially now that President Donald Trump has contracted the disease. But it puts Grassley in line with some GOP senators who told CNN they don't believe they need to be tested based on US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Capitol Physician guidelines, despite working alongside members who are positive for the disease.

An aide to Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, one of a handful of GOP senators who does not wear a mask at all times, said the senator is "following the advice of the Capitol Physician," who said "if you experience symptoms you should get tested, and he has not experienced symptoms."

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri who chairs the Rules Committee and an advocate for more coronavirus testing on Capitol Hill, has not been tested because he "has not had any recent interactions that meet the CDC guidelines for testing," according to an aide.

Same with Sen. Mitt Romney a Republican from Utah, according to an aide. "There's no known exposure risk to him at this time, though we are monitoring," the aide said.

Senate Republicans spend a lot of time together They met three times as a caucus last week, holding regular policy lunches in a large room in the Hart building with tables spread apart for social distancing. They remove their masks to eat and to speak, according to attendees. The senators who have tested positive -- Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina -- attended the lunches last week.

Grassley typically attends those lunches although his staff did not respond to multiple requests to confirm he attended them last week. But the senator did attend two Senate Judiciary Committee meetings last week, where most senators took off their masks when they spoke. During a hearing Wednesday with former FBI Director James Comey, Lee and Tillis were seen not wearing masks, although Grassley was not seated near them.

Also at the hearing was GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas whose spokesman declined to say if he's been tested. Drew Brandewie said the senator "followed all CDC guidelines last week during the Judiciary meetings and has not interacted with any of the members who tested positive."

A handful of other Republican senators have declined to say whether they've been tested for coronavirus.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his staff have refused to say if he has been tested for coronavirus in recent days, or explain why he doesn't want to disclose the information. He resisted questions on the issue at a news conference in Kentucky on Friday.

"Have I ever been tested? Yes. I'm not going to answer questions about when," McConnell said.

Some Democrats on the Senate Judiciary committee said they were tested for coronavirus after attending meetings with the Covid-positive senators, even though they did not come into close contact.

"Senator Leahy was tested for COVID-19 earlier today since he attended the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, where it is now known that two senators were present who have tested positive for the virus. While he did not come into close contact with these two senators for an extended period of time, he took the test at the advice of the Capitol Physician," said David Carle, a spokesperson for Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who tested negative for the virus.

Similarly -- Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who also sits on the Judiciary committee and attended the hearings -- was tested for coronavirus out of "an abundance of caution" and he was negative, according to his press secretary Karolina Wasiniewska.

Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, also reported testing negative on Twitter.

Although some Republicans are not pushing to get tested, others have done it and tested negative, including: Sens. Rick Scott of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio, Todd Young of Indiana, David Perdue of Georgia, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, among others.

Three senators who fear they were in contact with Lee, Tillis or Johnson said they would self-isolate to ensure they did not contract the virus. They are Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Three other GOP senators who tested negative are Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. They are all members of the Judiciary Committee who attended last Saturday's White House Rose Garden ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett that is now feared to be a super spreader event because several attendees have tested positive.

On Monday, McConnell was silent and did not respond to questions from CNN on whether he would allow coronavirus positive senators to vote on Barrett.

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