Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he hasn’t been to the White House since Aug. 6 because of the relaxed coronavirus response of not wearing face masks or actively social distancing.
“My impression was their approach to how to handle this was different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing,” McConnell told reporters at an event in Kentucky.
Although McConnell hasn’t issued a mask mandate on Senate grounds, the majority leader has encouraged his colleagues to continue wearing face masks.
“If any of you have been around me since May the 1st, I’ve said, ‘Wear your mask. Practice social distancing,’ ” McConnell said. “It’s the only way that we know of to prevent the spread until we get a vaccine. And we practice that in the Senate.”
McConnell has, however, maintained constant contact with President Donald Trump by phone.
McConnell’s comments come after Trump tested positive for the coronavirus last week, along with 34 White House staffers and “other contact” who have contracted the infection in recent days, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) memo. There are a few GOP senators have tested positive for the deadly disease, including Mike Lee (Utah) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) -- both of which attended a Rose Garden event for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacant seat in the Supreme Court.
The Kentucky senator hinted that the White House is now “paying the price” for the lack of an effective coronavirus response to curb the spread of the infection.
"You've heard about other places that have had a different view, and they are, you know, paying the price for it. But in the Senate ... we practiced social distancing and wore a mask and are continuing to operate normally adapting to the post-coronavirus situation," McConnell said.
There have been several instances where Trump and his top campaign aides were not wearing masks in public, including at Barrett’s event last month where most lawmakers and attendees did not practice social distancing or wear masks.
After spending four days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Trump left the residential area of the White House on Tuesday to work in the Oval Office, where he could potentially infect staffers and other workers as he hasn’t tested negative for the virus yet.
In the Senate, McConnell has ensured social distancing efforts by posting signs along the walls of the Capitol Building, serving as reminders to stay six feet apart, as well as spreading out meetings and hearings to avoid general congestion.
At another event in Kentucky on Thursday, McConnell noted that he refrained from visiting the White House because he "personally didn't feel that they were approaching the protection from this illness in the same way that I thought was appropriate for the Senate."
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.