Tennessee Sen. Blackburn tests negative for COVID-19 after traveling with President Trump to debate

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn in Chattanooga.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn has tested negative for COVID-19 after announcing on Friday that she would get tested and maintain her social distance after traveling earlier this week aboard Air Force One with President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, who later tested positive for the coronavirus.

"I was leaving a coffee this morning and found out that I needed to go get a COVID test because, yes, I did fly with the president out to the debate and was there at the debate," Blackburn said by Zoom to attendees at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Atlanta.

Blackburn said, "I was socially distanced, wearing a mask, not in close proximity, so we think we're fine, but out of an abundance of caution and respect for each of you and respect for your meeting ... what we're going to do is keep our social distance."

Her announcement was captured on video by a reporter for WABE, the NPR affiliate in Atlanta, and posted to Twitter.

Blackburn, 68, was also at the White House on Saturday when Trump announced the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. At least two attendees - Utah Sen. Mike Lee and University of Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John Jenkins - also tested positive for the virus several days after that event.

Blackburn initially announced she had been exposed to the virus while speaking at a conference in Atlanta. The senator spoke over Zoom to abide by social distancing guidelines, saying she was getting a test "out of an abundance of caution and respect for each of you."

Several hours later, Blackburn was at a campaign event for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia. The two Republicans waited until they had received their COVID-19 test results before attending the event.

"Out of an abundance of caution, Senator Loeffler took a COVID-19 test today that came back negative. Senator Loeffler will continue to follow health and safety guidelines both in Washington and Georgia as she continues her work to combat the coronavirus and keep Georgia families safe," a spokesperson said.

Blackburn's spokesperson did not provide any other information regarding the negative test, including whether the senator will quarantine for the next 14 days.

Trump's early Friday morning announcement that he tested positive came after one of his top aides, Hope Hicks, tested positive for the virus. Hicks traveled with the president and several other senior aides recently, several of whom have now tested positive.

White House officials said Trump was "feeling mild symptoms" on Friday, hours after the announcement. Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence both tested negative. So did his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, who shared the stage with Trump during the Tuesday night debate.

The development has thrown a curve ball at the two remaining presidential debates, including the final Oct. 22 debate set for Belmont University in Nashville.

Earlier in the day, Tennessee politicians on both sides of the aisle rushed in with statements wishing the president well.

"@MariaLeeTN and I are praying for President Trump and First Lady Melania's swift recovery and for all others affected by this virus," Republican Gov. Bill Lee tweeted.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, an Ooltewah Republican, tweeted, "I am praying for a speedy recovery by the President and First Lady from COVID-19. Our nation is behind you and we will get through this."

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, a Democrat, weighed in as well, saying, "I wish the President and First Lady a speedy recovery." He added: "Wear a mask when in public. Don't gather in large groups. Stay 6 feet away from others. Wash your hands frequently. #BeSafe"

Also weighing in were U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both Georgia Republicans. Perdue tweeted, "Bonnie & I wish President Trump and the First Lady a speedy recovery. Our prayers are with them as they fight this virus."

Loeffler tweeted, "Like so many in our country and around the world, I'm lifting @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS up in prayer as they recover from #COVID19."

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, a Knoxville Republican, tweeted, "I'm praying for President Trump and the First Lady and wish them both a speedy recovery. Along with the rest of the nation, I'm hoping for positive news in the coming days about the First Family's health."

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bill Hagerty, who served as Trump's U.S. ambassador to Japan prior to seeking the Senate seat, issued a statement saying "my family and I join Americans across the country in praying for President Trump, the First Lady and the Trump family and wish them a speedy recovery.

"President Trump and First Lady Trump are in the hands of the best medical doctors in America, and we are most optimistic that they will fully recover from the virus," Hagerty added.

Hagerty's Democratic opponent, Marquita Bradshaw, issued a statement saying, "This news underscores the importance of wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. All of us are susceptible to infection. While voters deserve opportunities to hear from and engage with candidates leading up to Election Day, we must remain committed to safe and responsible campaigning practices during this pandemic. I join the rest of our nation as we pray for a speedy recovery for the President and First Lady."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.