National Leaders Need To Take More Personal Precautions

March 27, 2020 11:16 a.m.

Boris Johnson is a relatively young man. He should be okay after two or three weeks. And we wish him the best. But I hope Johnson’s testing positive will be a wake up call to senior leaders of the US government.

Congress is still meeting largely business as usual. Yes, I know they’re taking some precautions. But watch the videos. It’s still largely business as usual. The President and key executive branch leaders continue with these daily press briefings in the fairly small confined space of the White House briefing room. There’s already a mini-revolt among reporters over the relative inattention to social distancing going on in those briefings. It’s being driven by the President’s hunger for his new version of political rallies. They could easily be done in the Rose Garden.

We want everyone to protect their health. Members of Congress and the executive branch aren’t more important as people than anyone else. But they do serve a critical role in a national crisis. If a significant number of members of Congress were incapacitated it could severely impair their ability to pass crisis legislation. Random chance could decisively change the balance of power in Senate, undermining the legitimacy of new legislation. This applies with equal or greater force to members of the executive branch, particularly those in their 70s.

A couple days ago I was watching the news and saw Bernie Sanders giving a powerful speech on the rescue bill on the Senate floor. But my reaction was ‘WTF? Why is this 79 year old man who recently suffered a heart attack out milling around with all these other people?’

I’m not singling out Sanders or revisiting the health issue from the campaign. It just drove it home for me. I’m sure I don’t have to remind anyone that many Senators are over 70 years and more than a handful are over 80. I can see an argument that Speaker Pelosi and Leader McConnell have to be operating on the Hill in person just to move critical business forward, notwithstanding the risk. But overall the leadership of the federal government needs to find ways to ensure continuity of government by doing more social distancing than they currently are. Certainly a critical part of that is making arrangements for remote voting before the decision is forced on them.

Many of us feel we know these people. They matter to us. We want the best for them. But this goes beyond these people as individuals. It’s an issue of continuity of government.

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