A year later, lawmakers long for hugs and Chuck E. Cheese

Greg Nash

Lawmakers are eager to return to the joys of everyday life post-pandemic after a year of social distancing and overall uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.

Thursday marks the first anniversary of COVID-19 restrictions, and members of Congress who spoke with The Hill shared what they most look forward to doing when their friends and family are all vaccinated and a sense of normalcy returns to life in America.

For many, it’s the little things. 

“Taking my kids to a ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese. They miss the ball pits,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he’s eager to have a social life again.

“I’d just like to go out to a good dinner with my family and a good cigar bar with my friends,” he said.

For Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), “just being able to sit with my friends safely” will be a welcome change.

“I just miss my contacts and being with friends in person,” she added.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said regaining a sense of community is what she’s looking forward to.

“Being able to have our kids playing together again without worrying, just being able to be a community. I think that isolation has been so difficult — on families, on communities — and I think just getting some sense of having defeated this virus and getting back to being together is something that everyone is really looking forward to,” she said.

President Biden has said he expects the coronavirus vaccine will be available for all adults by the end of May. The U.S. is administering 2.1 million shots a day, and more than 18 percent of the population has received a vaccine as of Wednesday.

Members of Congress were eligible to participate in the very first round of vaccinations in mid-December, shortly after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use. About 75 percent of House lawmakers have now been vaccinated, according to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Now that more Americans are getting vaccinated, lawmakers say they can start looking forward to normal interactions with friends and family. 

Many senators, like Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), told The Hill they are eager to hug their grandkids again.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said he’s looking forward to having “a big Bristol 4th of July parade,” referring to a town in his home state.

Some senators said they’re excited to see their constituents in person after a year of mostly virtual events. 

“Every year I make a point to visit with local officials from all 95 counties across Tennessee to listen to the challenges they’re dealing with, the opportunities they’re looking at, and how I may be helpful from a federal perspective,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “This past year, I’ve had to adapt to social distancing requirements by holding these meetings virtually. I can’t wait for the day when I can see everyone in person again.” 

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is looking forward to doing what politicians are known for — shaking hands.

“I know this is shocking, but I’m in public service because I like people. After a year of Zooms and socially distanced, smaller events, I can’t wait to get back on the road across Virginia, shake some hands, give some hugs, take some selfies, and just generally be out there with my constituents in a way that just isn’t the same during COVID,” he said.

Much of the growing optimism comes from both the increased rate of vaccinations and recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC this week said fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with each other without masks. The agency also said that vaccinated people can visit with someone in a single household who is unvaccinated, without protections.

Washington leaders off Capitol Hill are equally eager to return to pre-pandemic socializing.

“Looking forward to spending time with my grandkids and talking face to face with my friends and colleagues,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said he is “really looking forward to seeing my colleagues in person to thank them for everything over this past year … and no longer wondering if they’re putting me on mute.”

Tags AFL-CIO Coronavirus COVID-19 Debbie Dingell Eric Swalwell Jerry Moran Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Mark Warner Marsha Blackburn National Association of Manufacturers One Year of Lockdown Pandemic Pramila Jayapal Rhode Island Sheldon Whitehouse Social distancing Tom Cole

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