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GOP says House votes will take place despite Hurricane Florence
GOP leaders said Tuesday they will move forward with planned votes in the House this week as they continue to monitor Hurricane Florence, expected to be one of the strongest storms to hit the Carolinas and Virginia in decades.
"Members are advised that - due to the important nature of votes expected on the Floor and in committee this week - there are no changes to the House schedule at this time," Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who controls the House floor schedule, emailed lawmakers.
"Members are encouraged to be in DC and voting so that we can move through our legislative work as quickly as possible," McCarthy added. "We will continue to monitor Hurricane Florence and send further updates as needed."
His email came minutes after The Hill published a story saying that GOP leaders were weighing whether to cancel votes for the entire week, as Hurricane Florence prompted evacuation orders for more than 1 million people along the coasts and threatened to disrupt air travel across the country.
House lawmakers already are facing a truncated, Wednesday-through-Friday workweek. The lower chamber was not in session Monday or Tuesday in honor of the Rosh Hashana Jewish holiday.
But several lawmakers from the Carolinas, including Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), and Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) said they are planning to ride out the storm in their districts this week so they could better coordinate local, state and federal resources.
Two powerful North Carolina Republicans, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry and Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker, were monitoring the storm and had not decided whether to stay in their districts this week or return to Washington, their spokesmen said.
Canceling the workweek could pose additional problems for House Republicans' agenda less than two months before the critical midterm elections. Because the lower chamber will be on recess all of next week for Yom Kippur, there are just seven legislative days remaining in the month of September.
GOP leaders are racing to pass a series of spending packages needed to avert a government shutdown on Sept. 30. The House had planned to pass the first such package this week after House and Senate negotiators reached a deal on energy and water, military construction and Veterans Affairs, and legislative branch appropriations bills.
House leaders had also hoped to pass a final version of a water infrastructure bill this week after bipartisan leaders struck an agreement on Monday. Congress also must reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration before a deadline at the end of the month.
"We're in wait-and-see mode right now but we just don't have a lot of time," said one GOP congressman's chief of staff. "The fewer days Congress has to vote, the more pressure builds before October."
Leadership sources said Tuesday they are prepared to move forward with votes despite absences from a handful of members who represent states impacted by the storm. In addition to the so-called minibus, legislation that would make changes to the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate is expected to come to the floor this week.
Hurricane Florence, which is now a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds at about 130 mph, is expected to strike the Carolinas and Virginia on Thursday night or Friday morning before it continues inland. On Monday night, President Trump approved emergency declarations for North and South Carolina ahead of the storm.
People living in coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia already have been ordered to evacuate due to threats of high winds, the storm surge and flooding. The already saturated Washington, D.C., region is also expected to be hit with additional heavy rainfall from the storm.
On Tuesday morning, Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency in Washington, D.C., as the city prepares for possible flooding and power outages.
--This report was updated at 2:44 p.m.