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WASHINGTON — Coronavirus is rocking Capitol Hill.
Multiple Republican members of Congress — including Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Doug Collins, and Rep. Paul Gosar — have all put themselves under quarantine after shaking hands during last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, with a person who was subsequently hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease resulting from the coronavirus.
The rapid-fire announcements threatened to disrupt work inside the Capitol and raised questions about how many more members would decide to lock themselves at home over concerns about the virus that’s causing regional lockdowns in Italy and China, states of emergency across the U.S., and a white-knuckle drop in the stock market.
President Trump also spoke at CPAC and shook hands on stage with Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union who has said he was in direct contact with the infected person. But there has been no indication that Trump is infected, and Trump insisted he’s not worried about the possibility that the virus might penetrate his administration.
“No, I’m not concerned at all,” Trump said Saturday, when asked whether he had any concerns about the virus getting closer to Washington D.C. or the White House.
The coronavirus anxieties among high-profile CPAC attendees reflect a change of tone from some of the public statements at the conference, which took place Feb 26 to 29. During the meetings, some attendees insisted Democrats and the media were overblowing coronavirus to undermine Trump.
Mick Mulvaney, who was Trump’s acting chief of staff at the time, told conference-goers: “The reason you’re seeing so much attention to [the coronavirus] today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the president. That’s what this is all about.”
Fox Nation host Lawrence Jones interviewed multiple attendees who appeared to agree with Jones’ own statement at the top of his broadcast that Dems were hyping the problem out of political vengeance. “Just when you thought Dems couldn’t get any lower in their desperate attempt to take down this president, they’re now spreading fear by politicizing the coronavirus,” Jones said.
Last week, Gaetz prompted accusations that he was mocking concern over the illness when he donned a big, bulky gas mask on the floor of the House during a vote on allocating billions worth of new funds to fight the outbreak.
But Gaetz, who at the time quipped that he got the mask from an “underground lair” that was “top secret,” insisted Monday that he wore the gas mask as a serious statement of concern for public safety.
Gaetz’ self-quarantine also raised fresh questions about whether the virus is drawing closer to Trump’s inner circle. On Monday, before his announcement, Gaetz was spotted getting onto Trump’s presidential airplane, Air Force One, for a trip from Orlando to Washington DC with Trump. Moments before, Gaetz hopped out of Trump’s official limousine, which is known as “The Beast,” where he appeared to have been sitting close to Trump.
Gaetz attended a party in Florida with Trump over the weekend, and only learned that he’d been in contact with an infected person after the plane took off with both Trump and Gaetz aboard, according to The New York Times.
Gaetz “then essentially quarantined himself, sitting in a section of the plane alone,” the Times reported. He then made his announcement after he got off the plane.
Cruz said in a statement that he’s feeling “fine and healthy” after shaking hands and holding a “brief conversation” with the infected person during the event, which took place February 26-29, but would stay home for two weeks anyway.
“The medical authorities have advised me that the odds of transmission from the other individual to me were extremely low,” Cruz said. But “to give everyone peace of mind, I have decided to remain at my home in Texas this week, until a full 14 days have passed since the CPAC interaction.”
Gosar suggested his time of exposure during the CPAC conference with the infected person was more significant, however, and that members of his staff were at risk too.
“I was with the individual for an extended period of time, and we shook hands several times,” Gosar said.
Gosar said neither he nor anyone on his staff is showing symptoms, but said he’ll stay home in Arizona until 14 days have passed. And he seems to be taking his confinement well.
Cover: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, gets into an elevator on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)