Chuck Grassley, Senate's oldest Republican and third in line to president, tests positive for coronavirus
DES MOINES — U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the oldest Republican currently serving in the Senate, has tested positive for coronavirus, he announced Tuesday afternoon.
"While I still feel fine, the test came back positive for the coronavirus. I am continuing to follow my doctors’ orders and CDC guidelines," Grassley said in a statement. "I’ll be keeping up on my work for the people of Iowa from home. I appreciate everyone’s well wishes and prayers, and look forward to resuming my normal schedule when I can."
The 87-year-old announced Tuesday morning that he was in quarantine while awaiting a test result after learning he’d been exposed to the virus. That test came back positive. He is the sixth member of the Senate to have reported a positive test.
Grassley said Tuesday morning that he plans to continue working virtually from home, according to the statement. His spokesperson, Michael Zona, said Grassley can participate in nearly all Senate business aside from voting.
The 87-year-old senator chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is the president pro tempore of the Senate, making him third in line for the presidency after the vice president and speaker of the House. He was first elected to the Senate in 1980.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people older than 80 face the steepest risk of severe complications from the coronavirus. That's especially true if they have other chronic health issues.
Grassley, currently serving his seventh term, often brags that he hasn't missed a Senate vote since July 20, 1993 when severe flooding damaged Iowa. That was more than 27 years ago. That streak of 8,927 consecutive votes ended Tuesday since the Senate has not allowed members to vote remotely during the coronavirus pandemic as the House has.
Grassley was last in the Senate on Monday, when he made remarks asking Iowans to do their part to limit the spread of the virus by washing their hands, limiting activity outside of their household, social distancing and wearing a mask.
"Although promising vaccines for the coronavirus are on the horizon it’s more important than ever to stop the surge. Countries across the world are seeing cases explode. It’s critical for Iowans to step up their personal responsibilities to stay safe and healthy for themselves and their loved ones," he said in his last remarks before his diagnosis.
"We’re going to get through this together, but we need everyone to do their part."
Grassley also attended a meeting with Senate Republican leadership on Monday, which includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And he was seen on the Senate floor patting the back of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Both senators were wearing masks.
It was not immediately clear whether any others senators might quarantine due to Grassley's diagnosis.
Grassley holds the record for longest length of time without missing a vote in the history of the Senate. He broke the previous record, held by the late U.S. Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin, in 2016.
"I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to vote today in the Senate, but the health of others is more important than any record. My voting streak reflects how seriously I take my commitment to represent Iowans. Choosing not to potentially expose others to this deadly virus is obviously the right and responsible thing to do," Grassley said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Grassley has completed his annual 99-county tour of Iowa this year, a tradition he's maintained every year he's been in the Senate.
Zona said staff have been limiting contact with Grassley since the beginning of the pandemic and have been following the guidelines of the Senate physician regarding social distancing and mask wearing.
"Those who have been in contact with Sen. Grassley have been appropriately notified and are instructed to follow the advice of their physicians as well as all CDC and local health guidelines," Zona said in an email.
Asked if Grassley knows where he was exposed to the virus, Zona said: "We will provide further details when we are able."
Zona said Grassley will quarantine "for as long as his doctors recommend."
In early October, Grassley said he would not seek a coronavirus test after attending a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting with a fellow senator who later tested positive for the virus. At the time, Zona said Grassley's doctors did not recommend he get tested since he was not within six feet of U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who tested positive.
Grassley campaigned around the state for President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and other Republicans prior to the Nov. 3 election, including at a Trump rally in Dubuque on Nov. 1.
Congresswoman-elect Ashley Hinson, another soon-to-be member of Iowa's congressional delegation, also tested positive for coronavirus recently. Hinson, a Republican who will be sworn in to represent the 1st Congressional District in January, said she has no idea where she got the virus.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.