Hoyer says Congress will stay at work amid coronavirus — for now

Hoyer says Congress will stay at work amid coronavirus — for now
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerLobbying world Procedural politics: What just happened with the coronavirus bill? DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill MORE (D-Md.) said Monday that Congress has no plans to cancel votes or roll back its schedule amid growing anxiety over the coronavirus — at least for now.

Addressing reporters in the Capitol, Hoyer said Democratic leaders are in frequent contact with the congressional physician's office, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health officials, who have so far offered no recommendation that Congress take a temporary recess until the virus subsides or becomes better understood.

"We want to keep our people safe. ... But at this point in time we are not considering — we don't have any advice that tells us that we ought to shut down, not have sessions, not have the Capitol open," Hoyer said.

As the cases of coronavirus topped 600 in the U.S. on Monday, congressional leaders are walking a fine line between protecting lawmakers, their staffs and other visitors to the Capitol and trying to avoid inciting undue hysteria outside of the Beltway. Hoyer said as much on Monday.

"We are in a place where literally thousands of people come on a daily basis and therefore we have to be very cognizant and aware of the ... risks," Hoyer said. "We don't want to panic anybody, but nor do we want to fail to take steps that are necessary and recommended by our experts."

Another reason Congress intends to keep its schedule, Hoyer added, is even more practical: If legislation is required to address the fallout of the coronavirus, lawmakers must be in town to vote on it.

"Very frankly, if we need to pass legislation — if we need to do things, either appropriate money or policies — we need to be here," he said. "So to the extent that we can be here, we think that that's good policy."

The comments came as members of both chambers were traveling back to Washington for the week's first votes, and just hours before Hoyer, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi calls for investigation into reports of mistreatment of pregnant women in DHS custody Wisconsin highlights why states need a bipartisan plan that doesn't include Democrats federalizing elections Pelosi defends push for mail-in voting: GOP 'afraid' to let people vote MORE (D-Calif.) and other party leaders plan to huddle in the Capitol to decide a path forward on dealing with the coronavirus.

Pelosi on Monday evening also promoted the idea that Congress should remain in session, and suggested the decision was outside of her control in any event. 
“As far as our being here, that’s really not my decision. That’s a decision [for] security and the attending Capitol physician’s office,” Pelosi said. “Right now we see no reason why we would not proceed to do the work we need to do.”

The virus has infected more than 113,000 people around the globe, according to Johns Hopkins University, killing almost 4,000. An early scarcity of testing kits in the United States has prevented an accurate measure of domestic cases, but Johns Hopkins says there are more than 600 cases in the U.S. and 22 deaths.

On Monday, a number of lawmakers in both parties announced they were isolating themselves as a precautionary measure after coming into contact with individuals who have tested positive for the virus.

The economic impact has been severe, as well, as airlines have canceled flights, cities have put strict limits on public gatherings, and markets have tanked around the globe.

In response to the economic turmoil, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHarris, Ocasio-Cortez among Democrats calling for recurring direct payments in fourth coronavirus bill House Republicans, key administration officials push for additional funding for coronavirus small business loans Rep. Massie threatens to block next relief bill, calls for remote voting MORE (D-N.Y.) floated a package of legislative fixes Sunday evening, including a boost in unemployment insurance and paid sick leave for those who contract the virus.
Hoyer on Monday said party leaders are also eyeing additional proposals to cushion the virus's impact on the nation's most vulnerable populations. If schools close, for instance, some children will likely go without meals, Hoyer said, suggesting there will be other similar proposals floated in the days ahead.

"Mortgages aren't going to stop, grocery shopping's not going to stop," he said. "So there may well be need for legislation, and we've asked each one of the committees to determine what legislation within its jurisdiction might be contemplated if we need to respond."