Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday that he hasn’t been to the White House since early August, citing a difference in coronavirus protocols at the White House and in the Senate.
“I haven’t actually been to the White House since August the 6th because my impression was their approach to how to handle this is 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 at a Kentucky event in response to a question about whether he believes President Donald Trump should be disclosing more information about his recent coronavirus diagnosis.
The comments, which he more or less repeated at a second event shortly after, underscore the sharp differences in how the Kentucky Republican has approached the pandemic compared to Trump’s White House. For months, McConnell hasn’t just worn a mask, but regularly taken opportunities while on camera to urge others to do the same. And while there are a small number of senators who forgo masks on occasion, the vast majority in the chamber wear them in Washington.
The White House, McConnell said at the second event, wasn’t “approaching the protection from this illness in the same way that I thought was appropriate in the Senate.”
The Kentucky Republican is married to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is tested regularly and has tested negative, a department spokesman told CNN last week. CNN has reached out to the department to ask when Chao was last at the White House.
McConnell on Thursday made clear that he speaks frequently with the President by phone, however, and added, “I think he’s perfectly fine. He seems normal and we’ve been discussing the very issues that you all are discussing with me right now. Of course, the biggest thing we’re doing at the moment is the Supreme Court.”
The comments from the majority leader, who is up for reelection this cycle, come in the wake of the President’s Covid-19 diagnosis as well as the recent Covid diagnoses of three Senate Republicans, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
In an email to GOP senators after the positive results were made public, McConnell again reiterated the need to operate safely in the midst of the once-in-a-century pandemic, urging his members to stay healthy so they can all return when the Senate comes back into session on October 19.
“We need to lead now, with extra prudence and care, not just for our own health and well being, but to be able to perform our elected duties and to be examples to the country,” McConnell wrote in last weekend’s email, which was obtained by CNN. “Wear masks, stay distant, and come back safely on the 19th.”
The news of three GOP senators testing positive led to calls from some Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for new safeguards to be implemented on Capitol Hill, including a ban on anyone who has tested positive going to the Senate floor or committees until a subsequent test shows the individual is negative.
At Thursday’s event, McConnell also briefly weighed in on the status of coronavirus stimulus talks, underscoring that significant differences remain.
“We do agree that another rescue package is needed. We have vast differences about how much we should spend,” he said.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.