McConnell: Senate will return on May 4 to start next coronavirus relief bill

Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Monday that the Senate will return to the Capitol next week — and he outlined GOP priorities for a fifth coronavirus relief bill.

“Senators will return to Washington D.C. one week from today. We will modify routines in ways that are smart and safe, but we will honor our constitutional duty to the American people and conduct critical business in person,” McConnell said in a statement. 

“If it is essential for doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, truck drivers, grocery-store workers, and many other brave Americans to keep carefully manning their own duty stations, then it is essential for Senators to carefully man ours and support them,” he added. 

That means the Senate will return on Monday, May 4. The House has not said when it will come back, though House Democrats have said it will not be before May 4. 

McConnell’s announcement comes as GOP senators had indicated that they expect the chamber to return next week. McConnell did not say in his statement if there will be further changes to the Senate schedule, but under its previously released 2020 calendar, senators would stay in town until a one-week Memorial Day recess starting on May 22. 

“Yeah, we’re coming back,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). “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.” 

The Senate left town in late March when McConnell started the chamber’s previously scheduled two-week Easter recess a week early in an effort to let lawmakers practice social distancing and try to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus among lawmakers. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the only senator known to have tested positive, but several others have had to quarantine due to exposure to infected individuals. 

But there’s been a growing clamor among lawmakers to return to Washington as they have been forced to try to coordinate with their colleagues and question administration officials through conference calls during the break.

The latest $484 billion coronavirus relief bill was largely negotiated by leadership, sparking calls that if Congress was going to be passing legislation, members needed to be in D.C. to vote on it. While most of the House returned last week to pass the bill, only a handful of senators were on the floor when it passed by voice vote. 

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. 

Leadership in both chambers are already jockeying over the next coronavirus bill, which McConnell has vowed will not pass until all senators are back in Washington to discuss what should, or should not, be in it. 

McConnell took a shot at Democrats on Monday, saying Americans don’t need “tangential left-wing daydreams” and that lawmakers should not “get distracted by pre-existing partisan wish-lists or calls to paper over decades of reckless decisions that had nothing to do with COVID-19.”

“This crisis has every part of our society in dire need of stability, clarity, and certainty. The Senate has already stepped up, but our work is not over. I look forward to seeing all my colleagues next Monday.”

Democrats have outlined a list of priorities for the so-called phase four bill, which will technically be Congress’s fifth coronavirus relief legislation, including more help for state and local governments, food assistance and funding for vote-by-mail amid concerns that the coronavirus could prevent voters from wanting to turn out to polling locations in person. 

McConnell hinted on Monday that Republicans could try to include language to help shield businesses from lawsuits as states lay the groundwork for starting to reopen shuttered parts of the economy. 

“A massive tangle of federal and state laws could easily mean their heroic efforts are met with years of endless lawsuits. … Our response must not be slowed, weakened, or exploited to set up the biggest trial lawyer bonanza in history,” he said. 

“The brave healthcare workers battling this virus and the entrepreneurs who will re-open our economy deserve strong protections from opportunistic lawsuits. Some such protections were included in the bipartisan CARES Act. We will need to expand and strengthen them,” McConnell added. 

Tags congressional recess Coronavirus coronavirus relief coronavirus stimulus Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Rand Paul

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