By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of President Donald Trump’s most powerful allies in Washington, has avoided visiting the White House for more than two months because of its handling of the coronavirus, he told reporters on Thursday.
The top Republican in Congress relies instead on phone conversations to discuss important issues such as COVID-19 economic stimulus legislation and Supreme Court moves with Trump, he told a news conference in Kentucky, his home state.
“I actually haven’t been to the White House since Aug. 6, because 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,” the 78-year-old lawmaker said.
His remarks drew a sharp contrast with Trump, who was hospitalized for three days with the coronavirus but publicly removed his mask in front of TV cameras after returning to the White House.
In his Nov. 3 election bid to retain his Senate seat, McConnell faces a long-shot challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath, a former Marine Corps fighter pilot.
First lady Melania Trump and several White House officials including spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany have also tested positive for the deadly disease.
Trump’s handling of his infection and the broader coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 211,000 Americans, more than in any other country, is threatening Republican hopes of keeping their Senate majority.
In the Senate, lawmakers are encouraged to wear masks, practice social distancing and limit office visitors. Committee hearings are conducted partly online, and there have been calls for new testing protocols.
“Since May 1st, I’ve said wear your mask and practice social distancing. It’s the only way that we know of to prevent the spread until we get a vaccine and we’ve practiced that in the Senate,” McConnell said.
“You’ve heard about other places that have had a different view, and they are paying a price for it,” he said.
Three Republican senators have tested positive for COVID-19. Two were diagnosed after attending a crowded White House event for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Howard Goller)