Chuck Grassley, longest-serving Republican in U.S. Senate, tests positive for coronavirus

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the longest-serving Republican senator and third in the line of presidential succession, said Tuesday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Grassley, 87, announced earlier Tuesday that he was quarantining after being exposed to the virus and was waiting for test results. On Tuesday evening, he tweeted that he had tested positive.

“I’ve tested positive for coronavirus,” Grassley wrote. “I’ll b following my doctors’ orders/CDC guidelines & continue to quarantine. I’m feeling good + will keep up on my work for the ppl of Iowa from home.”

Grassley said he looks forward to “resuming my normal schedule soon.”

The Iowa Republican, who was in the Senate and voting on Monday, did not say how he was exposed. His office said Tuesday morning that he was not experiencing any symptoms.

Grassley is the president pro tempore of the Senate, meaning he presides over the Senate in the absence of Vice-President Mike Pence and is third in line for the presidency, behind Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The president pro tempore is the senator in the majority party who has served the longest. Grassley has been a senator for nearly 40 years.

As pro tempore, Grassley opens the Senate each morning. He did so on Monday, leading the Pledge of Allegiance alongside others on the floor and then giving remarks without wearing a mask. He also joined other senators on the floor Monday evening for a procedural vote on a federal judge.

In his morning remarks, Grassley said it was “more important than ever to stop the surge” of the virus around the country and the world.

“This virus is hitting rural and urban areas alike,” Grassley said. “No community is immune. I ask every Iowan to continue to do their part to keep their family and neighbours safe.”

Although he was not wearing a mask while he spoke, Grassley encouraged Americans to “wash your hands, limit your activity outside your household, social distance, wear a mask.”

Grassley also attended leadership meetings with other Republican senators on Monday, according to Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, another member of the Republican Party leadership. Blunt told reporters Tuesday evening that he “was like 12 feet away” from Grassley in the meeting, which he said was in a large room.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, right, speaks with Grassley before a committee hearing in September. On Tuesday, Grassley missed a Senate vote for the first time since 1993. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Blunt said Grassley “has been great about wearing his mask, and I think great about taking care of himself, so I think he’s done everything he can.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not return a request for comment on whether he would encourage testing for other Republican senators who may have come into contact with Grassley. McConnell has maintained that regular testing is not needed in the Senate, although the Capitol physician announced this week that there would be testing available for members of the House and their staff.

The announcement comes as the longest-serving Republican in the House, Alaska Rep. Don Young, said he was recovering from the coronavirus. In a statement on Monday, Young said he had been hospitalized and “I had not felt this sick in a very long time.”

Young, who is also 87, said he had been discharged and is now “on the road to recovery.”

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By missing votes on Tuesday, Grassley broke a 27-year streak of not missing a single Senate vote. According to his office, the last time he missed a vote was in 1993, when he was in Iowa assisting with relief efforts after severe flooding.

He said in a statement on Tuesday that he had voted 8,927 times without skipping a vote — a record in the Senate.

“I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to vote today in the Senate, but the health of others is more important than any record,” he said.

Grassley was first elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and then to the Senate in 1980. He is chair of the Senate finance committee and is expected to become the top Republican on the Senate judiciary committee when a new Senate session begins in January.

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