Top Republican Mitch McConnell says he's avoided White House due to lax coronavirus controls

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, said on Thursday (Oct 8) he has avoided the White House for two months over concerns that officials like President Donald Trump have not taken sufficient coronavirus precautions.

McConnell, the Senate majority leader and a Trump ally, told reporters in Kentucky that he and the president have “talked a lot on the telephone” but that he has not been to the executive mansion since Aug 6.

“My impression was, their approach to how to handle this was 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.

His remarks come as the White House grapples with its status as a virus hot spot. Trump has been diagnosed with Covid-19, as have administration officials including many in the president’s inner circle.

Several tested positive after attending a ceremony hosted by Trump in the Rose Garden late last month when he introduced his new US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

McConnell, who is 78 and endured polio as a child, was notably absent from that event.

Most of the attendees, including Vice-President Mike Pence, Attorney-General William Barr and some Republican lawmakers, were not wearing masks.

Three Republican senators – Ron Johnson, Mike Lee and Thom Tillis – are now Covid-19-positive and in quarantine, a scenario that complicates Trump’s and McConnell’s effort to push through the Barrett confirmation before the Nov 3 election.

McConnell told the reporters that Barrett’s confirmation – vigorously opposed by Democrats who argue the process should not occur in the lead up to the election – is “the biggest thing we’re doing at the moment” in the Senate. He said he and Trump have been discussing “the way forward on that.”

Democrats say any senators who still have Covid and who enter the chamber to cast a vote would be putting the health of all other members at grave risk.

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