Feeling your pain? Virus reaches into the lives of Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) – A husband coughing up blood. A sister close to death. Another friend knocked down by the coronavirus.

The strike against Congress has always been that its members are out of touch with ordinary Americans. But that is not true when it comes to the brutality of COVID-19 and its march across the borders of wealth, education and power. Despite his privilege, at least one senator and seven members of the House reported positive tests for the disease.


Like much of the world, lawmakers are experiencing a humiliating dose of fear, sadness, anger and isolation. The result is a wide and profound impression on the same Congress charged with helping a traumatized nation.

"Everyone now knows someone who had it," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Whose husband, John Bessler, recovered from a frightening coronavirus infection that sent him to the hospital. "Even if the person is not really sick, everyone knows how scary it is. They know how scared they were.

There are signs that misery has provoked acts of kindness between Republicans and Democrats after years of little contact in the corridor. "We are texting friends," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, of Florida, about "clear texts" that he and Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, exchanged after suffering and recovering from the virus. “Many of us check on each other now. So it's been cool. "


Washington cool, maybe, for now.

However unifying on a human level, the crisis is posing difficult political questions. Threatening disputes hover over how to spend more trillions and protect companies from lawsuits as the country reopens. Supervisory investigations are only emerging in the administration's virus response.


It was still in the dark future, but influencing everything: the November elections, with control of the House, the Senate and the White House at stake.

Trump continues to lead with vitriol, resuming his practice of calling the Speaker of the House "crazy Nancy". Nancy Pelosi is blaming Republicans for ignoring the science of the spread of the virus. Republicans are complaining that she has made infusions of money for small businesses. All sides of a recent Twitter quarreled over who "turned away from bipartisanship" in China, where the pandemic started.

And so on, even when everyone in the political world struggles to project empathy. The task is especially high for the country's 45th president, who is not known for feeling other people's pain.

"I don't think anyone can feel worse than I do with all the unnecessary death and destruction," said Trump, recently challenged in his treatment of the crisis as the death toll has exceeded 70,000. This week, the virus also affected his inner circle, when a valet tested positive after being in the same room as the president.

In many ways, US representatives in Washington are not much like the United States. Lawmakers earn at least $ 174,000 a year and receive health insurance courtesy of taxpayers. They are much richer than most people and tend to have a higher education. Therefore, his political debates about health care for the masses and other help for the "ordinary person" may seem abstract and academic.

But in the coronavirus, empathy is not exaggerated.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts lost a brother to the virus. Financial Services Chamber President Maxine Waters, D-California, dedicated the latest aid account, which she had silently helped write, to a sister who, she said, was dying of coronavirus in Missouri. Mrs Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., Lost her mother-in-law due to illness. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., Reported that she had just heard that "another dear friend" had passed away.

"I'm here today with a broken heart," she said last month on the floor of the House.

On Thursday, his mask fell off as he spoke, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Reflected on the scope and speed of the virus.

"I am a successful American senator," Kaine said at a hearing on the health committee, the first since March 3. "I know four people who have died of coronavirus since the last time we were together."

In parts of the country where the virus was slow to spread, lawmakers said the difficult talks revolve around the financial problems of families unable to work because of the closure.

"It's devastating," said Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., A heart surgeon whose district includes 19 counties. Anxiety in his district, he said, centered on closings like that at a Toyota plant in Princeton, which has been gloomy since late March. State statistics on Friday said Gibson County had seven positive coronavirus cases and zero deaths.

Bucshon's medical training says the closure may have been smart, but conversations with voters say it might be time to reopen. The decision is heavy.

"You won't find many politicians who say, 'Hey, turn on the switch again'," Bucshon said in a recent interview. "Because imagine if they open the Toyota plant with 6,000 employees and will have 200 deaths next month." Local news says the facility will begin a slow reopening next week.

Democratic MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents Queens, the hottest coronavirus hot spot, in part because of the population density of the New York City neighborhood. She spent many of her days wearing a mask, helping deliver food while staying in contact with constituents on social media.

"I'm feeling it," she said during a call with Zoom in recent weeks. She said she lost the organizers and one of the people in her office lost her parents to the virus. "I am concerned about my family in Puerto Rico. I am concerned about my mother. … I am trying to find out, I bring her to New York, what is worse?

Klobuchar said he has noticed some changes in his approach since his family's distressing struggle with the virus. On the one hand, she understands isolation. John attacked the virus while he was in Washington and she was at home in Minnesota. He endured her rigors, which included coughing up blood and driving to the hospital, to avoid infecting her and her family.

"I started calling more and more and he sometimes doesn't answer," he recalled. "It was getting more and more scary."

She is "obsessed" with improving tests because it took her six days to recover her husband's results. She also wants to require all states to allow voting by mail after watching people in Wisconsin risk their lives to vote last month.

"People were so crazy," she said. “This personal experience I had was replicated across the country. That's why you see the visceral reaction. "


Follow Kellman at http://www.Twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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