WASHINGTON — A day after announcing that the House would reconvene in Washington next week, House Democrats reversed course and announced Tuesday that lawmakers will not be returning to the Capitol after all because of the coronavirus threat.
“We made a judgement that we will not come back next week,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a phone call with reporters.
Hoyer said he spoke with the House physician late Monday about the decision. The majority leader cited a rising number of coronavirus cases in the Washington metropolitan area.
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“We will not come back next week, but we hope to come back very soon to consider CARES 2 legislation,” Hoyer said, referring to the next round of major coronavirus relief legislation, which would mirror the $2 trillion package signed into law in late March.
Asked about the decision, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said during a separate press call, “We had no choice. If the Capitol physician recommends that we not come back, then we have to take that guidance in the interest of the safety of the people who work here.”
“We could not take any chances,” she added, noting that many people beyond just lawmakers work at the Capitol, such as office and custodial staff.
Pelosi said she doesn’t think the physical absence of House members puts them at a disadvantage. Lawmakers are “constantly working” and preparing legislation for the next round of coronavirus aid, she said.
Democratic leaders originally told rank-and-file members during a caucus conference call on Monday that the House was expected to be in session starting next Monday, May 4. They also advised members that floor votes would also be possible next week.
Meanwhile, the Senate is expected to return to the Capitol next Monday.
“We will modify routines in ways that are smart and safe, but we will honor our constitutional duty to the American people and conduct critical business in person,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced in a statement Monday afternoon.
“The Senate must focus on concrete steps to strengthen our response to this complex crisis. We cannot get distracted by pre-existing partisan wish lists or calls to paper over decades of reckless decisions that had nothing to do with COVID-19,” McConnell added.
Many members live in states where stay-at-home orders are in effect, and one such order is in effect for Washington, D.C., at least through May 15. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said that the number of COVID-19 cases there was expected to peak later than in New York City. According to data provided by the District of Columbia, as of Monday, nearly 4,000 people in the city have tested positive for the disease and 190 people have died.
Bowser said during a press conference Monday that D.C. has not met the criteria needed to begin reopening, which is 14 days of sustained decline in the number of cases.