Leaders tamp down talk of closing Capitol, changing schedule over coronavirus

Leaders tamp down talk of closing Capitol, changing schedule over coronavirus
© Greg Nash

Members of congressional leadership moved quickly Monday to shoot down speculation that Congress could change it schedule — or shut down the Capitol altogether — over concerns about the coronavirus. 

The comments by leadership in both chambers come amid growing anxiety on Capitol Hill about the potential influence the virus could have on day-to-day workings within the building, and as five lawmakers have said they are self-quarantining after being exposed to someone with the coronavirus.

"I think at this point it's business as usual, but obviously everybody is paying attention to the developments as they happen," Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters after a closed-door GOP leadership meeting Monday night. 

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Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks up bright side beneath omicron's cloud GOP fears boomerang as threat of government shutdown grows MORE (Mo.), a member of Senate GOP leadership and chairman of the Rules Committee, said that changes to the schedule were not discussed among the Republican leadership team on Monday night and that he had been in no discussions where lawmakers talked about extending congressional recess in response to the coronavirus. 

Asked if he thought the Senate should keep its current schedule, he added: "I think so." 

Congress is already expected to be out of town next week, as well as two weeks in April. 

But nerves in D.C. are running high as the district got its first confirmed case of the coronavirus over the weekend.

On Sunday, two lawmakers, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarTo avoid electoral disaster Biden needs enemies, not friends McCarthy laments distractions from far-right members War of words escalates in House MORE (R-Ariz.), said they were self-quarantining after interacting with an individual at the Conservative Political Action Conference who has tested positive for the coronavirus. Three more lawmakers said on Monday that they will self-quarantine

There are a total of 423 reported cases of the coronavirus in the United States spread out among 34 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The top four congressional leaders were briefed by Capitol security last week, and both House and Senate offices have been encouraged to form plans for telecommuting. 

But lawmakers are also signaling concern that any drastic action taken within the Capitol could cause panic across the country amid growing concerns about a widespread outbreak has sent shockwaves through the stock market

"You're very safe," Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default MORE (R-Texas) told reporters when asked about security in the Capitol. "Just do what your mother told you to do, wash your hands." 

When a reporter noted that several senators are at a higher risk because of their age, Cornyn shot back: "Be careful now." 

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Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinFour questions that deserve answers at the Guantanamo oversight hearing Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Conservatives target Biden pick for New York district court MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Congress should be following basic safety measures such as asking visitors to use hand sanitizer or not to come if they are not feeling well. 

"I don't think it's reached that point yet, but I think we ought to be attentive to what's happening across the country," Durbin said, asked if he thought if changes to the congressional schedule needed to be considered.

Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters "no, no, no," when asked if the Capitol should be closed. 

"At the present time, there is no reason for us not to continue with our vital legislative work in the Capitol. Tomorrow morning, we will have an opportunity to hear from these officials together and discuss in greater detail," Pelosi added in a letter to colleagues on Monday night.