Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, 87, on Tuesday became the latest lawmaker to be affected by the virus, announcing that he had tested positive. His absence helped to temporarily derail the confirmation of President Trump’s nominee for the Federal Reserve Board and shattered Mr. Grassley’s pride and joy, the longest consecutive voting streak in Senate history.
His diagnosis came the day after Representative Don Young of Alaska, also 87, disclosed that he had been hospitalized over the weekend after what he described as a particularly brutal bout with Covid-19. The twin announcements from two men whose gender and age put them at peak vulnerability to being killed by the virus underscored the risks that lawmakers are operating under as Congress continues to meet.
The marble-and-stone petri dish that is Capitol Hill is a vivid microcosm of the national struggle to confront and contain the spread of the pandemic, with partisan bickering often thwarting already unevenly enforced health precautions. Having effectively declared themselves essential workers, the nation’s lawmakers — a group of older Americans whose jobs involve weekly flights, ample indoor contact and near-constant congregating in close quarters — are yet again struggling to adapt their legislative and ceremonial routines to stem the spread of the virus, even as it rages within their ranks.
As of Tuesday afternoon, both Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, and Mr. Grassley were in quarantine as a result of possible exposure, marking the first time Mr. Grassley had missed a vote since 1993. In the House, Mr. Young — who noted on Monday that he was “alive, feeling better and on the road to recovery” after being discharged — is among four lawmakers who have revealed they contracted the virus in the past month.
More than 80 members of Congress have either tested positive, quarantined or come into contact with someone who had the virus, according to GovTrack.
On Tuesday, the absence of Mr. Grassley and Mr. Scott temporarily stalled the confirmation of Judy Shelton, Mr. Trump’s Fed nominee, after Republicans fell short of the support necessary to advance to a final vote.
“There’s this kind of macho, ‘Well, I’m not afraid of Covid’ thing going on,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, who has one of the longest congressional commutes and has instructed his entire staff to work remotely. “We have to run the government — that’s our obligation. Our obligation is not to show that we’re personally unafraid, because we have to pass legislation to address this crisis, and we’re no good to anybody if we’re sick or quarantining.”