Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened her weekly news conference Thursday with a simple comment to capture the feeling of nine House committees marking up coronavirus relief legislation while the Senate holds former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial: “Quite a week, quite a week.”
The California Democrat followed the remark with a preview of the upcoming congressional schedule that shows the daunting amount of work on lawmakers’ plates won’t go away anytime soon.
Pelosi said that after the nine House authorizing committees finish marking up their respective portions of the COVID-19 aid package, the Budget Committee will meet next week to “work their will on it” as they combine the pieces into a budget reconciliation vehicle.
The week of Feb. 22 is when the House plans to bring the package to the floor, with the Rules Committee as usual determining the procedures governing debate.
“We hope to have this all done by the end of February, certainly on the president’s desk in time to offset the March 14 deadline, where some unemployment benefits will expire,” Pelosi said.
Typically in the February of a president’s first year in office, Congress would host a joint session to hear the new president’s first annual address, which in subsequent years, after they are in office more than a year, is called the State of the Union. President Joe Biden likely won’t be invited to present his address until at least March, Pelosi indicated Thursday.
“We won’t be doing any of that until we pass our COVID bill. That’s the first order of business,” said the speaker, who is the lawmaker responsible for officially inviting the president.
Part of the delay comes as the Capitol offices that oversee physical and health safety measures — the Sergeants-at-Arms, Capitol Police and Office of the Attending Physician — consider the safest way to conduct a joint session in the middle of a pandemic after an insurrection on the Capitol.
Pelosi said those offices will make a recommendation about how to host the session “spatially,” since it’s not realistic under current health guidelines to have all 432 House members, 100 senators and their guests, as well as other typically invited government officials from the president’s Cabinet and Supreme Court justices, attend.
“They decide what that number is and what the criteria are for it,” she said.
In the background as Congress presses ahead with legislative business and annual traditions are ongoing investigations into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Pelosi said retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré briefed her again Thursday morning on his ongoing review of the security posture of the Capitol complex, as well as efforts to keep lawmakers safe in their districts and travels to Washington.
One of Honoré’s recommendations is to have a more formal commission “to review the command and control, the interagency cooperation, or lack thereof,” Pelosi said.
The speaker and other lawmakers have talked about setting up a commission modeled after the one Congress authorized in the wake of 9/11. Pelosi, though, suggested that lawmakers are still gathering more information about the breadth of questions that need answers as they determine the scope and resources for such a commission.
“We’re listening to folks about what answers we need in that regard, particularly listening to Gen. Honoré about what would be the most useful to protect us as we go forward,” she said.
One solution that Pelosi suggested Congress might pursue is authorizing the District of Columbia to mobilize its National Guard troops without having to get the permission of the federal government, as state governors can.
“It shouldn’t have to happen that way,” she said.
Congressional Gold Medal
Pelosi also announced Thursday that she plans to introduce a resolution to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Capitol Police and other law enforcement organizations who fought back against the rioters on Jan. 6. Lawmakers in both parties have called for Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who led a group of rioters away from the Senate chamber, to receive the medal, with resolutions introduced in both chambers.
In her remarks, Pelosi specifically mentioned Goodman and three officers who died: Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died of injuries suffered in the attack, and Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood and D.C. Metro Police Officer Jeffrey Smith, who both died by suicide after the events of Jan. 6. She called the officers who died “martyrs for democracy.”
“The service of the Capitol Police force that day brings honor to our democracy,” Pelosi said. “Their accepting this reward brings luster to this medal. We must always remember their sacrifice and stay vigilant against what I’ve said before about what Abraham Lincoln said: the silent artillery of time. We will never forget.”
Pelosi later Thursday sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to all House members with a draft of her resolution, inviting them to cosponsor it.
The resolution calls for presenting three Congressional Gold Medals: one each for the Capitol Police and the District's Metropolitan Police Department to display at their respective headquarters, and one for the Smithsonian Institution to display with a plaque that lists the other law enforcement agencies that aided in protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement that the force was "humbled" by Pelosi's gesture, as well as the cards and letters of support they've received from around the country.
“To have our police officers’ bravery acknowledged at a time when they’re experiencing tremendous emotions and exhaustion is a gift," she said. "We have too many heroes to count."