‘People are still scared’
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to return to session next Monday, as coronavirus stay-at-home orders remain for the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland.
And that’s not sitting well with some lawmakers.
“People are still scared,” said one senior congressional source about the return. “There is still apprehension among lawmakers about returning to the National Capital Region.”
As word trickled out from Capitol Hill on Monday about lawmakers returning in earnest, a number of senior aides from both sides of the aisle blasted the decision – if for no other reason that there was no master plan on how the reopening would work.
There are questions about exactly what Congress would “do” when it came back. The next “Phase 4” coronavirus bill is not ready yet. Many Senate Republicans argue that Congress must return to address coronavirus. But those same members are skittish of passing another bill, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions – to combat coronavirus.
“We’re risking ourselves to vote on confirmation? A Commissioner for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)?” asked one senator who asked to not be identified. “There are questions about the validity of this.”
The Senate’s vote on Monday is to confirm Robert Feitel to serve on the NRC.
Fox News is told the House is looking at conducting one “suspension” vote on Monday and then limited floor activity for the balance of next week. A senior source indicated that some House committees will met.
Besides that, no one has a semblance of a schedule. Are members going to require aides to come in? Congress is basically comprised of 535 CEOs. And, in this case, 535 public health commissioners. Every office is going to decide on their own if aides return to work – in notoriously cramped Capitol Hill offices.
“We’re talking about 20,000 people who work on Capitol Hill,” said John Lawrence, the former chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “You’re talking about thousands and thousands of people who are traveling the country, being exposed to people from all over the country. They need a much higher level of health security that can really be provided in a Capitol Hill environment.”
It’s possible that Congress “returning to work” is really just a shadow play or window dressing. An effort to “look” like Congress is back – even though its members don’t have major legislative items teed up yet. After all, Capitol Hill is often about the optics. And the concerns are extensive about the collective wisdom of bringing the House and Senate back to session.
“I don’t know how many times the Office of the Attending Physician has sent out messages about masks. And yet not everybody is wearing them,” groused one senior Congressional staffer. “People don’t read what you send them to read.”
So what does Congress look like when it comes back? What safety precautions are in place? Or is it business as usual?
“Fear drives a lot of people,” said one Capitol Hill source. “It takes a while for a rational answer to sink in.”