Senate 'unlikely' to return on April 20, top GOP senator says

Senate 'unlikely' to return on April 20, top GOP senator says
© Bonnie Cash

A top Republican senator is casting doubt on the Senate returning to Washington on April 20 amid a steady uptick in coronavirus cases and deaths.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntWashington prepares for a summer without interns GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said Thursday that the Senate is "unlikely" to stick to its plans for a late-April return.

"There’s all these cities under a closure order till April 30 or so. I think it’s unlikely, but we may have to figure out a way to come back," he told reporters. "My personal view is it’s unlikely."

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Blunt, who was in the Capitol on Thursday for a brief session, is the latest senator to signal that the Senate schedule could slip. The chamber is in the middle of a three-week recess after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US This week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic For city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now MORE (R-Ky.) extended the previously scheduled two-week Easter break.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Grassley, Leahy urge Roberts to permanently air Supreme Court arguments Democrats broaden probe into firing of State Department watchdog MORE (R), who has been on his farm in Iowa, previously acknowledged the possibility of a delayed return during a weekly teleconference call.

“Probably stay here for another 10 days and maybe longer if the Senate doesn’t go back into session on April 20," he said.

McConnell has not announced a scheduling update since extending the April recess. The House left town before St. Patrick's Day on March 17.

Aside from passage of the third coronavirus bill, when hundreds of lawmakers scrambled to get back to the Capitol, House leadership has not announced when members should return to Washington.

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"We don't want anybody coming back at any time that might not be healthy for them," House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US Judd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (D-Calif.) said during a conference call on Thursday.

But senators have signaled that they view the April 20 return date as flexible depending on the spread and intensity of the virus.

"We're supposed to go back to Washington on April 20, I think that's unrealistic," Sen. Angus KingAngus KingMemorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry Bipartisan senators introduce bill to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (I-Maine) said during a recent interview with the Maine Chamber of Commerce.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight Federal judges should be allowed to be Federalist Society members MORE (D-N.Y.) was asked on Monday about the April 20 return date. He demurred on commenting on a specific day, but said he expected the Senate would need to return "relatively soon" to work on a fourth coronavirus relief bill.

Sticking to the current schedule would have senators returning at a time when public health officials expect Washington, D.C., could be among the next hot spots that will see a rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

There were 1,440 confirmed cases in the nation's capital as of noon Thursday, and 27 deaths, according figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinFrustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight MORE of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said it would be "dangerous and risky effort" to bring lawmakers back on April 20. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the nominee to be inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the 20th.

Durbin and Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSoured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet On The Money: McConnell: Talking about fifth coronavirus bill 'in next month or so' | Boosted unemployment benefits on the chopping block | Women suffering steeper job losses from COVID-19 Kudlow: 0-per-week boost to unemployment benefits won't 'survive the next round of talks' MORE (R-Ohio) have offered a rules change that would allow McConnell and Schumer to temporarily enact remote voting.

But both McConnell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have signaled they are opposed to the idea.

"As long as the Speaker and Majority Leader are both opposed to that, any discussions we would have on that would just be at the most hypothetical level," Blunt said on Thursday.

Blunt is chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and would have oversight of any potential changes to voting procedures in the chamber.

He added that other potential changes, like requiring masks or temperature checks, were also not currently under discussion.

"In this particular moment, even though you want to prepare for contingencies, anticipating what’s going to happen a week-and-a-half or two weeks in advance is really hard to do because the circumstances have changed and will continue to change. Hopefully they’ll continue to change for the better in the near future," Blunt said.