President Donald Trump — never one to hold his tongue — cracked Sunday that it was "too bad" Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a longtime critic, was in self-quarantine after being in contact with another lawmaker who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Trump, 73, quickly followed up by insisting he was not being sarcastic with his remark.
A reporter had mentioned in Sunday's coronavirus press briefing that Romney, 73, was among a handful of senators isolating after interacting with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
This weekend Paul tested positive for the virus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. It has killed more than 16,000 people worldwide, and people over 60 and with underlying conditions are more vulnerable.
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"Romney is in isolation?" the president said in Sunday's briefing.
"Gee, that’s too bad," he added.
The reporter asked, "Did I detect sarcasm there, sir?"
"No. No. None whatsoever," Trump replied.
As a result of his quarantine, Romney will not be voting on the floor of the Senate, his office said Sunday. He was going to be tested for the virus but was not showing symptoms.
At the same time, he called on lawmakers "to pass a relief package as quickly as possible that provides assistance for families, workers, and small businesses."
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Utah Sen. Mitt Romney (left) and President Donald Trump in 2012Ethan Miller/Getty Images
After passing previous coronavirus funding and relief bills, Congress was stuck Monday hashing out a trillion-dollar aid bill that could win the votes of both Democrats and Republicans, who were reportedly divided over how to handle hundreds of billions in a fund to support businesses hit hard by the virus-related economic slowdown. (Health officials have urged people to stay at home as much as possible to slow new infections, bringing broad swaths of society to a standstill.)
Romney and Trump have a history of mutual disapproval, with the occasional reconciliation.
Romney, the Republican 2012 presidential nominee, has repeatedly spoken out against some of Trump's politics and, in particular, his elbows-out approach to politics, which favors insulting his opponents.
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Romney was also the lone Republican senator to vote to convict Trump and remove him from office during his impeachment trial over his Ukraine scandal.
“I believe that attempting to corrupt an election to maintain power is about as egregious an assault on the Constitution as can be made and for that reason, it is a high crime and misdemeanor,” Romney said in a Senate speech explaining his choice. “I have no choice under the oath that I took but to express that conclusion.”
Trump tweeted, in turn, "Had failed presidential candidate @MittRomney devoted the same energy and anger to defeating a faltering Barack Obama as he sanctimoniously does to me, he could have won the election."
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