McConnell says he avoids White House, cites lax COVID-19 approach

McConnell says he avoids White House, cites lax COVID-19 approach

United States 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 August 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 the approach taken by Trump, who was hospitalised for three days with the coronavirus but publicly removed his mask in front of TV cameras after returning to the White House.

Shortly after returning, Trump took ownership of ending talks with Democrats on further relief for millions suffering the economic toll of the pandemic, which has required mass shutdowns of parts of the economy.

Republican allies are peeling away from Trump, with some calling his decision to withdraw from virus aid talks a mistake.

Some, including Trump, have suggested that individual bills allowing for another round of $1,200 stimulus cheques be signed. Democrats have signalled unwillingness to handle further aid with a piecemeal approach.

McConnell held out hope that “we ought to continue to talk” even as several of his own senators said they do not want to pass more aid.

President Donald Trump removes his mask as he stands on the Blue Room Balcony upon returning to the White House after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was treated for COVID-19 [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]“There’s no question that the proximity to the election has made this much more challenging,” McConnell said, referencing upcoming national elections for Congress and the presidency.

In his November 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 Republicans’ 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.