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House delays expected return until May amid coronavirus pandemic

House delays expected return until May amid coronavirus pandemic
© Greg Nash

The House is not expected to convene until at least May 4, delaying a return originally planned for next week as stay-at-home orders remain in place across the nation.

Lawmakers had grown increasingly skeptical that the House could convene by the originally planned date of April 20, given that federal health guidelines for social distancing are still in place until at least the end of the month.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBiden signs Juneteenth bill: 'Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments' House passes political spending, climate change corporate disclosures bill House to vote Wednesday on making Juneteenth a federal holiday MORE's (D-Md.) office announced Monday that the expected date to return will be in early May "absent an emergency."

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"Members are further advised that if the House is required to take action on critical legislation related to the coronavirus response or other legislative priorities, Members will be given sufficient notice to return to Washington, DC," the notice added.

The Senate had also planned to reconvene by April 20, but that could be delayed as well, though no announcement has been made.

For the last month, the House and Senate have been holding pro forma sessions every three days as required by the Constitution. 

The House last held a vote March 27, when lawmakers gathered to debate the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. Before that, the House had last held a roll call vote two weeks earlier on the previous coronavirus relief measure.

House leaders had intended to pass the last bill by voice vote so that they could avoid requiring all members to travel to Washington and potentially risk exposing themselves and others to the coronavirus.

But conservative Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection House Democrat: Republicans 'treating Capitol Police like shit' were 'the most scared' during riot 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday MORE (R-Ky.) insisted on a roll call vote. House leaders subsequently scrambled to ensure that a minimum of 216 lawmakers were present to establish a quorum and override his objection to pass the bill by voice vote. 

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Massie has threatened to demand a roll call vote for any future coronavirus relief measures.

"They know I will get my car and drive there and make them vote on it. My colleagues, a lot of them frankly are cowards. They're telling the supermarket workers to go to work, they're telling the truckers to keep driving. Yet they don't want to show up for work," Massie told the Todd Starnes Show on Monday.

Members of both parties have called for creating a system that allows them to vote remotely during the pandemic, but those efforts have so far not yielded changes.

Congressional leaders are trying to pass another measure as soon as this week to provide additional funding for the small business loan program established by the last coronavirus relief package.

Republicans want to pass $250 billion in standalone funding for the program. Democrats want the funding for the small business loans to also include an additional $100 billion for hospitals, $150 billion for state and local governments and a boost in food assistance funding.