House not coming back to Washington next week after all, Hoyer says

Capitol physician was concerned about risk to members, majority leader says

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., speaks during a news conference last month.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., speaks during a news conference last month. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 28, 2020 at 11:27am, Updated at 5:30pm

Corrected, 5:30 p.m. |The House will not come back to Washington next week, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Tuesday, reversing an announcement he made on a Democratic Caucus conference call the previous day.

The change of course comes as members expressed concern about returning to Washington while some areas in the region are developing into coronavirus hot spots. Hoyer said the decision to delay the return, which had been briefly scheduled for May 4, came after he talked with the Capitol physician, Brian Monahan, who said he recommended against taking the risk involved in members returning.

“The house doctor, when I talked to him yesterday, was concerned because the numbers in the District of Columbia are going up,” the Maryland Democrat said. “They’re not flat, and they’re not going down.”

According to data released by the District, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus grew 29 percent, from 3,098 to 3,994, between April 20 and Monday. Deaths increased from 112 to 190.

Monahan spoke “forcefully about what he perceived to be the current situation in the Washington area,” Hoyer said.

After their discussion, Hoyer said he talked to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and they agreed they should listen Monahan’s advice because they have urged everyone throughout the pandemic to follow guidance from medical authorities.

Monahan advises both the House and Senate. It’s unclear what conversations he may have had with Senate leadership, but the Senate is continuing with its plan to return to Washington May 4.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced in a statement Monday that his chamber would return next week but would “modify routines in ways that are smart and safe.”

“The Leader's statement from yesterday stands,” McConnell spokesman David Popp tweeted after Hoyer announced the House was changing its plans.

Another reason the House decided to delay its return is because the chamber is not ready to vote on the next coronavirus relief bill, Hoyer said.

“We will not come back next week, but we hope to come back very soon to consider the CARES 2 legislation,” Hoyer said, adding that the House will take “the time to get that in order” before returning.

Hoyer questioned the Senate decision, saying he doesn’t know if they would do anything of substance.

“As I understand the Senate is coming back so they can confirm judges and confirm executive appointments,” he said.

President Donald Trump reacted to the news the House was not returning by noting Democrats are "enjoying their vacation" and "don't want to come back" to Washington, according to a White House pool report.

House members, Hoyer said, have been working almost nonstop in their districts talking to businesses, financial institutions, hospitals, community health centers and local officials.

“I think most members are working harder than they would work than if they were at the Capitol,” he said.

Hoyer acknowledged that there were differing opinions within the Democratic Caucus about whether the House should return next week.

Some wanted to get back and have the House adopt new rules for remote work and vote on another round of coronavirus aid, he said. Others felt the same but were concerned if those measures were not ready for a vote “then we ought to wait until we can do them all together in a short period of time,” Hoyer said.

Monahan’s advice was that it was safer to bring members back briefly for votes — as the House has done twice now to pass coronavirus relief bills — rather than to keep them in Washington for days-long legislative sessions.

“Bringing members back for a day … is not as dangerous as having them here for extended periods of time,” Hoyer said.

Meanwhile, Hoyer said discussions continue about changing House rules to allow for some remote work. He is part of the bipartisan task force that will be talking again about the issue on Tuesday.

“We are going to be working in the interim in trying to facilitate committees meeting in a real way, but virtually,” he said.

This report has been revised to reflect the correct number of deaths from coronavirus over the past week in the District of Columbia.

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