Senate expected to return to Washington next week after coronavirus-sparked break

Greg Nash

GOP senators say they expect to return to Washington, D.C., next week, after taking a five-week break due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) told reporters on Monday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated during a recent conference call with Republicans that lawmakers will return next Monday. 

“Yeah, we’re coming back,” Scott said. “That’s what McConnell said on the call. … He didn’t say how long we’re coming back, but he said we’re coming back.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also told Axios late last week that he expected that “we’ll all be back in Washington on Monday, May 4.”

The Senate left town in late March, starting their two-week Easter recess early over concerns about the spread of the virus and to try to prevent an outbreak in the Capitol. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the only senator known to have tested positive, though several others have quarantined due to their exposure to an infected individual.  

McConnell then extended the break for another two weeks, saying earlier this month that the Senate would not return to Washington “sooner than Monday, May 4th.”  

“As the country continues working together to flatten the curve, following the advice of health experts, the full Senate is not expected to travel back to Washington D.C. sooner than Monday, May 4th,” McConnell said in a statement earlier this month. 

Since then, GOP senators have increasingly pushed for the Senate to return to Washington, arguing that being away from Washington leaves lawmakers, aside from a core leadership group, sidelined during recent negotiations over coronavirus relief legislation. 

Shortly before Congress passed the $484 billion “interim” bill last week, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) called it “unacceptable” that the Senate wasn’t in town. 

“When we come back on May 4 — I hope we do, I hope the force will be with us, but we have got to get back together. I would hope even sooner than that because we cannot legislate without our members here. We can’t do that from recess,” Lee added.

“We’ve heard about the difficulties that could come with voting and having members of Congress catch COVID-19, but we can do this safely. We can vote safely. … Americans all over the country are on the front lines … If they can be doing that, I think we should be here working on behalf of them,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). 

If senators return on Monday, they are expected to stay in Washington through May 22 before leaving for a one-week Memorial Day recess under the Senate’s previously announced schedule. 

Though senators have been holding conference calls with each other and administration officials, the coronavirus-sparked recess has ground the normal legislative process, like action on the Senate floor and committee hearings and votes, to a halt. 

McConnell and other members of GOP leadership oppose allowing the chamber to vote remotely during the public health emergency. When Paul tried to pass a resolution last week to allow senators to vote remotely, McConnell blocked it.

The House is also not expected to return to Washington before May 4, but the chamber’s leadership has not committed to bringing members back next week.

“Any decision that we have about when we come back rests with the sergeant in arms and the Capitol physician. Hopefully things will get better, who knows,”  Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters during a press conference last week. 

The nation’s capital is under a stay-at-home order until at least May 15 due to the coronavirus, with 3,841 confirmed cases in D.C. and 178 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

But McConnell has indicated in recent interviews that he has seen nothing, yet, that would prevent senators from returning to Washington next Monday. 

“The current plan is to go back in session on May the 4th. I haven’t seen anything that would discourage me from doing that,” McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt. 

Tags congressional recess Coronavirus Dan Sullivan Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Rand Paul Tim Scott

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