Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he hasn’t been to the White House in more than two months because of the lax use of face masks and social distancing there amid the coronavirus pandemic.
McConnell, a 78-year-old polio survivor, contrasted the precautions he has taken personally in the Senate to the White House, where President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and at least 21 aides, Trump associates, military leaders and reporters have contracted the potentially fatal disease.
“Well, look. It won’t surprise you to know we talk frequently — on the phone,” McConnell said in response to a question about Trump’s health. “I haven’t actually been to the White House since August the 6th, because 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 said he thinks Trump, who returned to the White House on Monday after being hospitalized over the weekend, is “perfectly fine.”
“He seems normal,” McConnell said, “and we’ve been discussing the very issues that you all are discussing to me right now.”
McConnell made the remarks at an event at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport where he focused on Cares Act funding.
McConnell has frequently urged lawmakers and others to wear face masks, although he has stopped short of implementing a mask mandate on the Senate side of the Capitol. The Senate also instituted other changes beginning in May, including meeting in larger rooms.
Trump is frequently seen without a mask and has mocked those who wear them, including Democratic rival Joe Biden.
In his remarks Thursday, McConnell also appeared to suggest that the White House is now “paying the price” for its approach to 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. Now, you’ve heard of other places that have had a different view, and they are, you know, paying the price for it.”
Two Republican senators — Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — tested positive for the novel coronavirus after attending a White House event Sept. 26 where Trump announced his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. Lee and Tillis were seen maskless at events, including an indoor gathering, associated with the announcement.
A third Republican senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, announced last week that he had contracted the disease. Johnson was not at the White House event.
In his remarks in Kentucky, McConnell also maintained that a vaccine is not likely to be available for widespread use until next year, a message that is at odds with Trump’s recent statements promising the delivery of a vaccine sooner than that.
“This is not over. We’re going to have to work through it,” McConnell said, adding that it’s necessary to “work as safely as possible until we can get our people vaccinated — and that, my friends, is clearly going to be sometime next year.”
Donna Cassata contributed to this report.
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