Democrats eye Dec. 11 exit for House due to COVID-19

Democrats eye Dec. 11 exit for House due to COVID-19
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHoyer urges conference talks on bipartisan infrastructure bill Hoyer suggests COVID-19 rules will stay — and might get tougher Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE (D-Md.) said Wednesday that he's aiming for the chamber to finish its work for the year by next Friday to give lawmakers enough time to quarantine and avoid potentially infecting their families with COVID-19, which he hopes will provide an incentive for bipartisan dealmaking.

Congress needs to pass a spending bill by next Friday to avoid a government shutdown when current funding expires. Lawmakers are also trying to strike an elusive agreement on another round of coronavirus economic relief and provide funding for vaccine distribution as well as pass an annual bill to renew defense programs.

"I want to send members home, if possible, no later than the 11th. The reason for that is that if need be, they'll get the time to quarantine before Christmas and to reintegrate with their families if they need to quarantine for any reason," Hoyer told reporters.

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Hoyer suggested that the ideal time line for coronavirus relief would be reaching an agreement by the end of the weekend and voting on the aid by the end of next week. He said he's "hopeful" a deal can be reached within the next few days.

"I know that sounds very optimistic," Hoyer acknowledged. "But in light of the COVID crisis that confronts us, I'm hopeful that members will come to grips with decisionmaking, that that will be a compelling reason for them to do so and reach a compromise so that we can get members back home, as I've said, at least 15 days before the Christmas holidays so that they can do so as safely as possible."

Like the rest of the nation, Congress has been experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases among lawmakers in recent weeks.

At least 11 members of the House and Senate tested positive for the virus in the two weeks before Thanksgiving. And since Monday, two more House members — GOP Reps. Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottHouse Republican takes part in hearing while driving car Overnight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting MORE (Ga.) and Ted BuddTheodore (Ted) Paul BuddSchumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up Pro-impeachment Republicans outpace GOP rivals in second-quarter fundraising Trump, GOP return to border to rev up base MORE (N.C.) — also announced that they tested positive.

Five House members who tested positive shortly before Thanksgiving were in Washington and cast floor votes before learning they had contracted the virus, underscoring the risks of having hundreds of lawmakers travel from all over the country and gather together in the Capitol. Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Capitol insurrection hearing exposes Trumpworld delusions MORE (R-Iowa) — who said that he never showed symptoms — also voted on the Senate floor a day before starting to quarantine.

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Hoyer has advised lawmakers to stay in Washington through this weekend to minimize coronavirus exposure risks associated with travel with the hopes of allowing them to depart by next week.

The Capitol's attending physician, Brian Monahan, is urging lawmakers to take extra precautions while in Washington. In a memo this week, Monahan recommended: "DO NOT ATTEND dinners, receptions, or restaurant gatherings outside of your family unit."

The House and Senate Appropriations committees agreed to top-line spending figures for an all-encompassing spending package shortly before Thanksgiving. While a deal on a coronavirus relief package has been elusive since the summer, it's possible that Congress could attach extensions of eviction moratoriums and unemployment insurance programs that are expiring this month to the spending bill.

The annual defense authorization bill is also still in flux, in large part because Trump has threatened to veto it if it includes a provision to rename military bases that currently honor Confederate leaders. Both the House and Senate passed versions of the defense bill earlier this year that included bipartisan provisions to strip the bases of Confederate names.

Hoyer indicated that Democrats are holding firm on the Confederate issue, following passage of legislation that would remove Confederate statues from the Capitol over the summer in light of the nationwide protests over racial injustice.

"If that language is not included in the defense bill then I would be reluctant to put that bill on the floor," Hoyer said. "So hopefully the Senate will come to an agreement with us on that."

Trump further threatened to veto the defense bill if it doesn't contain a provision to repeal legal protections for social media companies.

“I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk,” Trump tweeted Tuesday night. “Take back America NOW. Thank you!"