Members of Congress, like many Americans, are working from home as they try to tackle major issues related to the health and economic welfare of the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic.
Most lawmakers have not been in D.C. since they voted during the last week of March to approve an unprecedented $2.2 trillion aid package to deal with fallout from the outbreak.
So, when are they coming back? Not until May, at the earliest.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced in a statement Monday that the House is not expected to meet before May 4.
- Sign up for news alerts from WTOP
- Inmates die in DC, Md.; FedEx Field testing site closed due to storms
- DC’s first coronavirus patient reflects during virtual Easter service
- University of Maryland lab supplies donated to local hospitals
- Every 15 seconds: Outbreak overwhelms NYC’s emergency system
- Coronavirus test results in D.C., Maryland and Virginia
- Coronavirus FAQ: What you need to know
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had originally indicated that Congress would be back on April 20. But coronavirus cases have continued to rise since that date was tentatively set.
The idea of more than 500 lawmakers returning to D.C. at a time when most Americans have been directed to stay at home doesn’t sit well with many of the lawmakers themselves. Also, between the House and Senate, there are nearly 200 lawmakers who are 65 or older, an age group considered to be more at risk of health complications from COVID-19.
Still, the legislative branch has major responsibilities during the crisis, and there are growing calls for more funding to be approved for small businesses. The nation’s governors are pushing for $500 billion in additional funds to address states’ growing costs.
McConnell tried to get $250 billion approved last week on a unanimous consent vote in the Senate, but that was blocked by Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, who offered up a broader alternative plan from Democrats. McConnell, in turn, objected to that proposal.
The current stalemate also doesn’t lend itself to getting lawmakers to rush back to the U.S. Capitol, since lawmakers don’t want return if no legislation is going to pass.
McConnell has said senators need to remain “nimble” to deal with the crisis, and Pelosi told reporters recently that House members also must be ready to address issues.
“We’re telling our (committee) chairmen, work with your ranking members and the rest. So that we’re ready when we’d be normally be coming back — or as soon as we can come back — to proceed,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi has been hesitant to push for remote voting by lawmakers, though she has directed that a review of the issue be conducted. Currently, there is no secure system that would allow members of the House and Senate to vote away from Capitol Hill.
Pelosi noted the issue was reviewed after the terror attacks of 9/11. But while some changes were made after several years of study, no remote voting system was approved.
“Let us hope that the blessings of technology will give us more options sooner to review,” she said.
In the Senate, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have pressed for a bipartisan solution to the issue. They propose an amendment to Senate rules that would allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis, such as a pandemic.
But development of a secure voting system would take time, and congressional leaders have given no indication a change will come during the current situation.
For now, members of Congress remain scattered across the country. Their days are filled with continual phone and video conference calls as they try to help a broad array of constituents in need.
Though President Donald Trump has suggested a possible partial reopening of the country in May, some lawmakers are skeptical.
“We all want the economy to reopen, but we want it to reopen when people are safe in terms of being able to go out, when we’ve been able to flatten the curve,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. “The worst thing that could happen would be if we go back to work too early and we see another spike in the virus immediately afterward.”