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It's time to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for the entire Congress

Congressman-elect Luke Letlow (R-LA) has died after being diagnosed with Covid-19. He was 41 years old. CNN's Don Lemon reports.

Posted: Dec 30, 2020 9:50 AM
Updated: Dec 31, 2020 7:30 AM


The 117th Congress opens Sunday, and it will convene in the shadow of the death of one of its own from coronavirus. Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, 41, died from Covid-19 complications Tuesday, just weeks after being elected to Congress.

His tragic passing should be a warning to Congress. If a young, otherwise healthy person could die as a result of the virus, no one in Congress -- a body whose average age is much higher and whose members are thus vulnerable -- is safe.

The only responsible thing to do, since Congress has thus far made Covid-19 testing available to members, but not mandatory, is for House and Senate leadership to mandate that anyone entering the Capitol building -- members, staff, Capitol police, support staff and journalists covering Congress -- receive the vaccine. This could be done via legislation or by each chamber changing its own rules, one of the very first votes of each Congress.

Vaccinating our representatives in Washington will help ensure that they can discharge their duties for the rest of us at a pivotal moment in America.

Recognizing the challenges of Covid, the House has already been making some changes. The first day of Congress is typically chaotic -- with members and their families jamming the House floor and visitor galleries. According to guidance from the House Sergeant at Arms and House Attending Physician, the only guests allowed this year will be for members-elect, and these will be limited to one. Swearing-in of the 435 members will be done in groups of 72, as opposed to the House swearing-in en masse.

But 72 is higher than the District of Columbia's guideline limiting mass gatherings to 50 people. Each round of swearing-in essentially represents a potential super spreader event, as members and members-elect (Letlow would have been among them this year) descend on Washington from every community in America, some potentially bringing Covid-19 with them from home or during travel, and potentially taking the virus back home with them. How does that make sense?

Indeed, beyond outright infection risk, Covid has presented a fearsome challenge to Congress, which simply isn't working as it should. During a recent meeting before the holiday break with a Member of Congress, I saw hallways and offices that were completely, eerily, empty. Staff, by and large, can't come to work, can't grease the wheels of legislative progress through human interaction, can't haggle and persuade and compromise in impromptu meetings, away from home, balancing constituents needs and desires with those of the whole nation.

Amid Covid fears, absent members may miss votes, hearings and important briefings. In normal times, the work of Congress includes --according to the Constitution and each body's own rules -- 435 people, or 100 in the Senate, all in a room at the same time to vote. The House has loosened this rule during the pandemic, and many members have had to quarantine and/or are voting by proxy. Some Republicans are even doing so despite House Republicans' May lawsuit attempting to disallow proxy voting (that suit was dismissed in August). The Senate has not changed this rule, however.

Consider that, so far, 106 representatives or Senators have either tested positive for Covid-19, been quarantined or exposed to someone with the virus, according to govtrack.com. And the reality is that we have to assume that many others have had the virus but were asymptomatic and never tested.

Like testing, the vaccine is available but not mandatory for members. And both representatives and senators will be allowed to choose two staffers to receive the vaccination (four staffers in the offices of committee chairpersons and the ranking member) -- setting up an office-by-office 'Hunger Games' among staff over who is deemed important enough to receive the vaccine.

It is easy to see why it's in everyone's best interest that such limitations be removed. Without mandatory testing and vaccination of all personnel in the Capitol buildings lawmakers can't effectively do their job -- can't deal effectively with Covid response, economic recovery, national security, and more.

Some may oppose the vaccine for members of Congress and senators because many among them were dismissive of the virus at first, rejecting the wearing of masks and other precautions or resisting increased testing or relief bills. Some may call their skipping to the head of the line hypocritical.

It may be hypocritical, and indeed is frustrating. But punitively choosing which members and Senators receive the vaccine based on their voting record or tweets is a pointless payback fantasy, and not what the country needs.

And that is for Congress to get back to the people's work -- and at full speed.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 206851

Reported Deaths: 2756
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah40371614
Washington26781248
Marion23425323
Clackamas18932235
Lane13908164
Jackson11535146
Deschutes1001882
Umatilla859387
Linn561181
Yamhill478279
Klamath477678
Polk399356
Douglas388483
Malheur361463
Josephine360672
Benton326522
Jefferson237039
Coos216637
Columbia192129
Union149924
Wasco144430
Lincoln143021
Crook129223
Hood River121633
Morrow115416
Clatsop10589
Baker101115
Curry71011
Tillamook6604
Grant5507
Lake4678
Harney4339
Wallowa1945
Gilliam801
Sherman671
Wheeler351
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3809710

Reported Deaths: 63356
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles124774424456
Riverside3016684627
San Bernardino2992894845
San Diego2818103771
Orange2730575113
Santa Clara1201632188
Kern1107991404
Sacramento1078211736
Fresno1029471724
Alameda896591277
Ventura816611031
San Joaquin747271440
Contra Costa70730813
Stanislaus634971070
Tulare49776849
Monterey43836432
San Mateo42681581
San Francisco37269556
Santa Barbara34613455
Solano33762266
Merced32313478
Sonoma30884317
Imperial28855741
Placer23589299
Kings23195247
San Luis Obispo21421261
Madera16638245
Santa Cruz16246208
Marin14206230
Yolo14160212
Butte12668194
Shasta12630233
El Dorado10396116
Napa1002680
Sutter9663113
Yuba648951
San Benito610963
Lassen578424
Tehama573463
Nevada491975
Humboldt449948
Mendocino434050
Tuolumne421271
Amador374047
Lake356345
Glenn243427
Siskiyou239637
Colusa228418
Calaveras220756
Del Norte14588
Inyo143438
Mono12954
Plumas7366
Modoc5585
Mariposa4657
Trinity4225
Sierra1160
Alpine890
Unassigned280
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