The skies were sunny on Tuesday, but a winter storm is forecast to hit the Washington, D.C., area and could cause delays or closures Wednesday.
Attention Capitol Hill staffers: Don’t bank on the Office of Personnel Management’s operating status during Wednesday’s expected snow storm to determine whether to head into the office.
A late-season winter storm is expected to pummel the Washington, D.C., region Wednesday, dumping anywhere from 3 inches to 15 inches of heavy, wet snow on the District and the surrounding areas, making travel difficult and possibly hazardous.
While it’s very likely that the OPM will shutter executive agencies in the District for the day, giving thousands of federal employees a snow day, Capitol Hill will remain open. It’s up to individual members of Congress to determine whether to follow the OPM’s lead and let staffers stay home or make them trek through the elements to work.
And with the House and Senate both scheduled to be in session Wednesday — the House is set to begin consideration of a fiscal 2013 continuing resolution and the Senate may vote on a judicial nominee — members and essential staffers may very well have to head to Capitol Hill during the storm.
“House Republicans leaders are monitoring potential severe weather in the Washington area and will determine the floor schedule for the remainder of the week when more information is available,” one leadership aide said.
The Architect of the Capitol — which is tasked with supporting congressional operations — will have crews available to remove snow, treat sidewalks for ice and keep the building running smoothly for offices that plan to remain open if the storm hits.
“Our mission is to support Congressional operations,” AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said in an email. “Therefore, when Congress is in session, we are here to ensure that the buildings are open and accessible and Congress can conduct its business.”
She added that the AOC is “very appreciative of our dedicated staff who tirelessly perform their duties during various weather events.”
While the grim forecast has the city riled up, with many predicting closures before a flake of snow has fallen, others on Capitol Hill are pooh-poohing the storm, which has been cheekily dubbed “snowquester” by The Washington Post.
“It is currently 51 degrees and sunny in Washington,” said Max Gleischman, communications director for Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill. “We’ll address our D.C. office status if/when it actually starts to snow. Until then, everyone should get a grip. Chicago is currently being hit with the biggest show storm of the season and our [district] office is open.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has been ribbing District residents on Twitter over their snow fears, as well.
“Washington DC – what a bunch of wimps. Threat of snow tomorrow and everyone is in high panic. #Snowquester,” he tweeted from his official @jasoninthehouse account.
But Chaffetz spokeswoman MJ Henshaw said that despite his sarcastic tweets, the congressman is committed to the safety of his staffers, and the office will likely follow the OPM’s guidelines in determining whether to close in the event of a major snow event.
“This is a guy from Utah; he has six ski areas in his district, so to hear 3 inches of snow may shut down the district makes him laugh,” Henshaw said.
She added, “Luckily, my boss stays in his office, so he doesn’t really have the commute.”
This is not the first time a major snowstorm has affected Congress while it is in session.
In December 2009, when the Senate was rounding up votes for President Barack Obama’s health care bill, a blizzard rocked the District, forcing senators and their staff to trudge to the Capitol through the nearly two feet of snow that fell in order to complete legislative business.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.