CORONAVIRUS

Chuck Grassley tests positive for COVID-19

He'll miss Senate votes for the first time in 27 years

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks to supporters during a Nov. 2 Cedar Rapids campaign stop in support of U.S. Sen. Joni Er
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks to supporters during a Nov. 2 Cedar Rapids campaign stop in support of U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Ashley Hinson, who since was elected to the 1st District congressional seat. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley tested positive Tuesday for COVID-19, forcing him into a quarantine that ended his 27-year streak of not missing votes in the chamber.

Grassley, 87, president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate and third in line for the presidency under the order of succession, said that following an exposure to the virus he voluntarily placed himself in quarantine while awaiting results of a test.

His office did not answer a question from The Gazette about how he had been exposed.

Grassley later revealed in a statement the test had come back positive. The seven-term Republican said he felt fine and was “continuing to follow my doctors’ orders and CDC guidelines.”

“I’ll be keeping up on my work for the people of Iowa from home,” Grassley added. “I appreciate everyone’s well wishes and prayers, and look forward to resuming my normal schedule when I can. In the meantime, my offices across Iowa and in Washington remain open and ready to serve Iowans.”

Grassley’s absence from the Senate meant he missed his first Senate vote since July 1993, ending a streak of casting 8,927 consecutive votes.

He holds the record for longest time without missing a vote in the history of the U.S. Senate — having broken the previous mark in January 2016 that was held by the late Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire.

“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,” Grassley said.

Grassley’s absence was noticed Tuesday in a key vote. Judy Shelton’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Board was blocked in the Senate, a defeat for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and a blow to President Donald Trump’s drive to reshape the U.S. central bank before he leaves office.

After COVID-19 exposures forced Grassley and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., into quarantine, the GOP was left short of the votes needed to overcome Democratic opposition. Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine joined 47 Democrats and two independents in voting against advancing Shelton’s nomination.

Shelton, 66, a former informal adviser to Trump, was known for advocating a return to the gold standard and opposing federal deposit insurance.

Grassley was first elected to the Senate in 1980. Staff members noted he can participate in nearly all Senate business remotely, aside from voting, under the chamber’s rules.

“As always, Sen. Grassley is prioritizing the health and safety of others by quarantining after exposure to COVID-19 — highlighting how important it is for every Iowan to do their part to help slow the spread,” said Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. “Unfortunately, this also means Grassley will miss his first vote in 27 years — the longest period of time any senator has gone without missing a vote in U.S. history.

“This is an unprecedented accomplishment all Iowans are proud of, and I applaud his outstanding work ethic and dedication to our great state,” added Kaufmann, a community college history and political science instructor. “Iowans can rest assured knowing Grassley will get right back to work and never miss a vote as soon as his quarantine period ends.”

Grassley last missed a vote in the Senate when he traveled to Iowa while the Senate was in session to tour the record 1993 flooding with President Bill Clinton.

In a message he issued Monday, before the diagnosis, Grassley encouraged Iowans to redouble their efforts in the fight against the coronavirus.

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“Everyone should consider what they can do in their own way to help keep their families and communities safe and healthy. For the Grassleys, this means we are not going to have our typical large Thanksgiving Day family gathering. We’ve been wearing masks and practicing social distancing when we do encounter others. We’ve also taken part in virtual events in lieu of in-person gatherings and stepped up efforts to sanitize often,” he said.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

The Bloomberg news service contributed to this report.

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