WASHINGTON – Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., became the latest member of Congress to test positive for COVID-19, his office announced Saturday.
Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, was tested Friday afternoon, according to the statement from Johnson spokesman Ben Voelkel.
“Senator Johnson feels healthy and is not experiencing symptoms,” Voelkel said the statement. “He will remain isolated until given the all-clear by his doctor.”
Aides said that most staff in Johnson’s Washington office had already been working remotely. With the new test result, the office will go all-virtual, an aide said.
Johnson, 65, was the third GOP senator to announce a positive test result for coronavirus since Friday. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., also tested positive. The former businessman from Oshkosh is the 16th member of Congress to have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began in March.
Voelkel said Johnson had been exposed to someone who tested positive on Sept. 14 and stayed in quarantine for 14 days. During that time, he tested negative. On Tuesday, he returned to Washington where he came into contact with someone who had the virus. Johnson got tested again and the results were positive, according to Voelkel’s statement which does not say where the senator thinks he was infected or who the person he came in contact with was.
The senator did not attend the White House ceremony announcing the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. At least six people who attended that event, including President Donald Trump, have since tested positive. Lee and Tillis also attended the ceremony on Sept. 27 and have spent the past week on Capitol Hill mingling with other senators.
The positive test of a third GOP senator – with the prospect that more could come forward in the coming days – threatens to disrupt the White House’s top priority in Congress: the confirmation of Barrett to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died last month.
Republicans are trying to hold hearings and confirm her before Election Day on Nov. 3. But that schedule could be derailed if the GOP could not muster enough votes for confirmation by the full Senate because senators are back home in quarantine.
Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate and GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have said they oppose a vote to replace Ginsburg before the election.
Democrats, who uniformly oppose Barrett’s nomination, have asked Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to delay the hearings which are set to begin Oct. 12 while lawmakers continue to report positive COVID-19 tests on Capitol Hill.
“It is premature for Chairman Graham to commit to a hearing schedule when we do not know the full extent of potential exposure stemming from the president’s infection and before the White House puts in place a contact tracing plan to prevent further spread of the disease,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Contributing: Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel