House to return to DC next Monday

House to return to DC next Monday
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The House will come back into session next week despite concerns about adhering to social distancing measures for the coronavirus pandemic in the Capitol, after Congress has been mostly on recess for the past several weeks.

Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThis week: Negotiators hunt for coronavirus deal as August break looms The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Fauci gives his COVID-19 vaccine estimate Congress rightfully rejects dangerous effort to cut defense budget by 10 percent MORE (D-Md.) announced on a conference call with House Democrats that the chamber will come back into session on May 4.

The announcement came hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellProfessional sports players associations come out against coronavirus liability protections Democratic leaders report 'some progress' in talks with White House Top GOP senator urges agencies to protect renters, banks amid coronavirus aid negotiations MORE (R-Ky.) confirmed that the upper chamber would return the same day and "modify routines in ways that are smart and safe."

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The decision to call members back to Washington comes as many Democrats have been urging leadership to make rule changes so that Congress can operate virtually without lawmakers and staff gathering in person and potentially risking contagion.

The House reconvened last week to vote on an interim $484 billion package to renew funding for the popular small business loan program, as well as provide funds for hospitals and testing. All but 35 members traveled to the Capitol to cast votes in person.

House officials staggered the floor votes so that members came in the chamber in smaller groups by alphabetical order. They also advised everyone to wear masks to help reduce any viral spread. While most lawmakers in both parties wore facial coverings, many removed them to speak during floor debate while some GOP lawmakers opted to ignore the guidance entirely.

At least six members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as a handful of staff and nearly a dozen construction workers renovating one of the House office buildings.

Hoyer and other Democratic leaders originally planned to vote on changing rules to allow proxy voting, in which absent members could authorize other members physically present in the Capitol to cast votes on their behalf. But Democrats ultimately scrapped the plan due to resistance from Republicans, who argued that lawmakers should be showing up to vote in person.

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Hoyer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyDon't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency Overnight Health Care: Five takeaways from Fauci's testimony | CDC: Children might play 'important role' in spreading COVID-19 | GOP leader wants rapid testing at Capitol GOP leader wants to make rapid testing available at Capitol MORE (R-Calif.) and the bipartisan leaders of the Rules and House Administration committees have been discussing options for the path forward.

But Democratic leaders indicated during Monday's call that they plan to vote on a rule change allowing proxy voting next week when the House is back in session, regardless of whether Republicans are on board, according to a Democratic aide.

Congress is slated to take up additional legislation to provide relief to individuals and small businesses impacted by the coronavirus-forced economic shutdowns. The contours of the next bill are still being worked out, but Democrats have called for funding for state and local governments, provisions to allow voting by mail across the country and extending the individual direct payments established by the previous relief measure last month.

—Updated at 6:08 p.m.