Congressional aides frustrated, ‘in a panic’ over muddled coronavirus response

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Aides on Capitol Hill are anxious over what they consider to be a muddled response from both their bosses and the White House to the coronavirus outbreak.

Lawmakers in both chambers have been fielding questions from members and staff about how Capitol Hill will be secured, but congressional leaders have so far shown little willingness to close the Capitol building, despite meetings being scheduled throughout the day to discuss preparations.

“The chiefs of staff are in a panic,” one longtime aide told Fox News when speaking about coronavirus.


The hesitancy to close Congress could be due in part to fears of how it would affect the already shaky stock market, which plunged to its lowest point since the 2008 financial crisis on Monday.

If Congress were to close up in the midst of the virus outbreak, a number of issues would need to be dealt with, including finding thousands of laptops for aides and members to use when working from home. Fox News is told that congressional work must be performed on congressionally issued computers or devices.

The question of how Congress will operate also comes as a number of lawmakers have self-quarantined themselves after being in contact with someone exposed to the virus.

On Sunday, two members of Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said they are isolating themselves after determining they had contact with the person at the Conservative Political Action Conference nearly two weeks ago.

Cruz said Sunday he had brief contact with the man and would spend the next few days at his home in Texas until a full 14 days had passed since their interaction.

Gosar said that he had also made contact with the man at CPAC and that he and three members of his senior staff were under self-quarantine. His office will be closed for the week, he said in a tweet Sunday.

President Trump also attended the CPAC conference.

Besides Cruz and Gosar, the CPAC schedule listed three other senators and 12 House members as speakers. They included House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming and congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who has since become the White House chief of staff. Also on the schedule was Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

A spokesman for Cheney said she has been told by CPAC that she was not exposed to the convention attendee who has tested positive for the coronavirus.


Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spoke at CPAC, but the White House said there was no indication that either had met or been in “close proximity” to the infected attendee.

Two more Republican lawmakers -- GOP Reps. Doug Collins of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida -- revealed Monday they had contact with the CPAC attendee who has since been diagnosed with coronavirus, saying they are not experiencing symptoms but will self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution.

Both Collins and Gaetz are pro-Trump Republicans who have been with Trump since CPAC: Collins shook Trump's hand and joined him for a visit to the CDC in Atlanta on Friday. He also met with Trump at the White House last Tuesday, several days after the Feb. 26-29 conference.

Gaetz was spotted riding on Air Force One on Monday as he learned the news. White House officials said when Gaetz learned he was in proximity to the man with coronavirus at CPAC, he sat by himself in a section of the president's plane.

Fox News’ Brooke Singman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.