McConnell suspends in-person GOP lunches

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will temporarily suspend in-person lunches for the GOP caucus, amid a nationwide spike in coronavirus cases.

McConnell’s decision comes as the Senate’s seen a recent uptick in members contracting the disease. Both Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have tested positive for the virus in recent weeks, while Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) announced she’d received a positive test before proceeding to test negative.

McConnell informed the GOP caucus of the decision Saturday afternoon. Senate Republicans have been holding socially distanced lunches in the Senate Hart building since May. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have held their weekly caucus lunches over the phone.

A Senate leadership aide familiar with the planning noted that no coronavirus cases have been linked to the GOP lunches or to floor activity. The Senate will continue to vote in person and maintain precautions like keeping the doors open to the chamber, holding votes open for a longer period of time and encouraging members to leave the floor after voting.

In addition to Scott and Grassley, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) have all tested positive for the virus. Lee and Tillis tested positive after attending the White House’s Rose Garden ceremony for the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.

The absences due to infections from the coronavirus affected the Senate agenda recently, when the chamber failed to move forward on Federal Reserve nominee Judy Shelton in part because Scott and Grassley were self-quarantining after being exposed to individuals with the disease.

The Senate is set to return Monday, after leaving for Thanksgiving break. McConnell is expected to continue focusing on confirming judicial and executive branch nominees that will outlast the Trump administration.

Congress also faces an imminent deadline to fund the government past Dec. 11.

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