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 Blunt (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.”

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 McConnell (R-Ky.) extended the previously scheduled two-week Easter break.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (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.

“We don’t want anybody coming back at any time that might not be healthy for them,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (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 King (I-Maine) said during a recent interview with the Maine Chamber of Commerce.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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 Durbin 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 Portman (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.

Tags Angus King Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley congressional recess Coronavirus Dick Durbin Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pandemic remote voting Rob Portman Roy Blunt
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