Private plane home to ramen and hot dogs: Sen. Mitt Romney in quarantine

(Susan Walsh | AP file photo) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, heads into a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 19, 2020.

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing readers free access to critical local stories about the coronavirus during this time of heightened concern. See more coverage here. To support journalism like this, please consider donating or become a subscriber.

Washington • When he learned that a fellow senator had tested positive for COVID-19, Sen. Mitt Romney left the Capitol and ordered up a charter flight home to Utah.

Sen. Mike Lee hitched a ride.

The two Utah senators are now quarantining themselves for two weeks because of close contact with Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who said Sunday he had contracted the disease that has led to deaths across the world.

Romney sat next to Paul at lunch Thursday and had an extended chat Friday; Lee and Paul are close friends in the Senate.

Romney, who is worth upward of $271 million from his career running a venture capital firm, says he knows that a private flight home is a luxury most Americans can’t afford but one that he thought was prudent.

He and Lee wore N95 masks while in-flight and sat 6 feet apart, and the pilot and co-pilot were both aware of the situation, Romney said.

“If I were to get COVID-19 or if Mike were to get it, we would certainly want to be in a place where we have our own physicians and our own hospital,” Romney said in an interview Monday. “If I’m in Washington, D.C., I don’t have a relationship with physicians there. And I don’t even know which hospital you go to.”

Romney and Lee, both Republicans, are now sidelined from voting on a massive package aimed at helping an America hit hard by the coronavirus that has prompted state and local officials to shutter nonessential businesses and issue stay-at-home orders in some locations.

Twelve states have ordered residents to stay home except for travel to essential places like grocery stores or pharmacies, orders that cover more than a third of Americans. Utah has warned residents to stay home and asked them to not gather in groups of 10 or more but has not issued a mandate.

Romney was tested for COVID-19 on Monday morning but still does not have results back, he said. Lee's office did not respond to a question of whether he has been tested.

“Senator Lee is working hard and feeling great,” his spokesman Conn Carroll said. “Still no symptoms.”

Carroll wouldn’t say how Lee would vote on the latest relief package, now topping $1.5 trillion, though he castigated Democrats for blocking a final vote on the legislation.

Romney, meanwhile, says he was on the phone nearly nonstop Monday with colleagues, including Democrats, as he urged swift passage of the bill, which would offer direct payments to Americans making less than $100,000, government-backed loans to small businesses, and a bailout to the airline industry struggling amid travel bans.

“It's very frustrating not to be there in the room where it happens, as they say,” Romney said. “But I am doing my best to influence thinking and action, particularly on the Democratic side of the aisle. I have been connecting with Democrats whom I respect and basically saying, 'Are you guys nuts? Have you lost your mind? Do you not understand? This is not a time to go through your liberal wish list. This is a time to get money to small businesses and to the people who are hurting.'”

Democrats have objected to the GOP-written bill that they say doesn't have enough protection for workers or prohibitions on multibillion-dollar industries buying their own stock back to increase prices.

Romney had tweeted a couple times to blast Democrats for voting against moving to final passage of the relief measure but said he's actually been holding back.

“I was tempted to put out a tweet today that said, 'If you lose your job this week or your business closes stores, give a thank you call to Nancy and Chuck,'” Romney said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

As negotiations continued on the third round of relief legislation aimed at the coronavirus impacts, some senators and aides were concerned that more members of Congress could be infected by COVID-19.

Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, remained hospitalized with the disease as of Monday night.

Some critics, including Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, were upset that Paul, who reportedly knew he had been in close quarters with people later confirmed to have COVID-19, had continued to work in the Capitol without informing others.

Romney wouldn’t comment on that, nor President Donald Trump’s remark of, “Gee, that’s too bad,” when he was told Romney was quarantined.

“You know, I don't really have anything on either one of those,” the senator said.

Romney, who shed his trademark suit on Monday for a track suit after working out on a stationary bike, said he's still working with his team and other senators, all via phone. His wife, Ann, who has multiple sclerosis, is staying elsewhere during the two-week isolation.

“My daughter-in-law brought me some food and put it outside the front door,” Romney said. “My son Josh brought over tons of food. He went to Costco this morning and brought in all sorts of supplies for me: ramen, rice, beans, peanut butter, hotdogs, hamburger — all of my favorite food groups.”

Josh Romney, who lives nearby, also left the food supply outside his dad's door.

“And then he backed away like I was some kind of a wildcat, you know, in its cage,” the senator said.

Return to Story