House may not return to session until third coronavirus response bill is ready

Hoyer cancels votes March 23, says other schedule changes possible

An electronic ad from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises commuters and tourists in the Metro Center subway station in Washington to “keep calm and wash your hands.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
An electronic ad from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises commuters and tourists in the Metro Center subway station in Washington to “keep calm and wash your hands.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 16, 2020 at 4:39pm

The House is indefinitely extending its current district work period, with Democratic leaders telling their members Monday that they may not call them back to Washington until a third legislative package responding to the coronavirus pandemic is ready for a vote.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi provided the schedule update on a Monday afternoon conference call with the Democratic Caucus, according to a source on the call who was not authorized to speak publicly.

While Hoyer mentioned waiting until a third bill is ready, the Maryland Democrat did not rule out calling the House back sooner for other reasons, a Hoyer aide said.

The Democratic Caucus call was held shortly before the Trump administration announced new social distancing guidelines, recommending against public or private gatherings of more than 10 people. The House currently has 430 voting members, with five vacancies, although a few lawmakers are actively self-quarantining after coming into contact with people who later tested positive for COVID-19.

The House adjourned early Saturday morning after passing its second legislative response to the coronavirus — a multibillion stimulus package containing provisions for paid sick leave, emergency unemployment insurance and food assistance.

Leaders are negotiating technical changes to the bill that they hope to pass by unanimous consent this week, but Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert is currently objecting. On Monday, the House gaveled in at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session, which is currently in recess subject to the call of the chair.

If leaders can’t work out an agreement with Gohmert, they may need to call members back to Washington to vote on the technical corrections. Alternatively, the House could send the bill to the Senate and allow it to make changes before reconsidering it in the House.

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A formal schedule update that Hoyer’s office sent Monday afternoon only announced that no votes would be held March 23, the date the House was scheduled to return from its district work period.

“Pending any developments requiring votes, members will have twenty-four hours’ notice to return to D.C.,” the notice said. “Members are further advised that plans are being developed to coordinate votes in order to limit the number of members voting on the floor at any one time.”

The Hoyer aide said no scheduling decisions beyond the cancellation of votes on March 23 have been made.