Indefinite recess: Hoyer says virus may dictate House return date

Members scrambled Friday to be on hand to pass $2.3 trillion stimulus

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., left, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., look down at their marked spots on the carpet as they followed social distancing measures before an enrollment ceremony for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Friday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., left, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., look down at their marked spots on the carpet as they followed social distancing measures before an enrollment ceremony for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Friday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 27, 2020 at 5:23pm

There was no indication Friday of when the House would next convene for legislative business. The chamber closed up shop for an undetermined period after passing a $2.3 trillion dollar aid package to lessen the economic blow of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t know the answer to the question of when we’re going to come back,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Friday, noting the decision would ultimately be made based upon the recommendations of scientists and doctors.

Leaders didn’t want to bring lawmakers back Friday, but when Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie threatened to hold up the aid package and force a vote of the full House, members scrambled to get back to the Capitol. Health officials have told people to avoid large groups, limit travel and practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Convening the House for votes defies all of those directives.

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“We don’t know the status from day to day,” Hoyer said about the House schedule.

He said that leadership will be considering advice from medical experts, the Capitol attending physician and what is happening in members’ communities and their own families.

“We have one member who wanted to be here but didn’t come here because his wife is at risk and if he left, he would have to quarantine for 14 days. And that’s just his wife. So, there are a lot of concerns,” Hoyer said.

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly stressed the need for a fourth coronavirus economic aid package and while it is not as urgent as the first three, she signaled Friday she won’t be waiting too long.

When asked if Congress should wait for the third package to be implemented and see what the results are before moving on to another legislative proposal, as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has suggested, she didn’t agree.

“We didn’t wait for the others to be implemented before we did phase three,” said Pelosi.

It seems that the Capitol building will lay quiet for weeks as the country quarantines, shelters in place and fights the devastation COVID-19 is bringing to communities. The House and Senate will gavel in for brief pro forma sessions, but legislative action isn’t expected. The Senate is scheduled to return on April 20, but that is not set in stone.

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Social distancing measures and concern about the virus has winnowed down the usually packed press corps at the Capitol in recent weeks, but new gallery closures will further discourage reporters who don’t absolutely need to be at the Capitol from using the workspaces.

“The Periodical Press Gallery will conditionally reopen workspaces before April 19 ONLY IF the House is in session conducting legislative business,” a Friday memo from the House gallery outlining closures of Periodical galleries’ workspaces stated. That covered Periodical gallery space in the House, Senate and an annex in the Capitol Visitor Center.

The Daily and Radio-TV galleries in the Senate are also moving to an extremely limited schedule, opening only for scheduled pro forma sessions.

Tourists and members of the public have been barred from the Capitol since March 12, when the Capitol Visitor Center closed.