Feinstein to McConnell: Cancel plan to bring Senate back amid coronavirus pandemic

Greg Nash

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to cancel his plan to bring the Senate back to Washington, D.C., on Monday, saying the House did the “right thing” by deciding not to return next week.  

“I ask the majority leader to reconsider his plan to reconvene the Senate. He would bring 100 senators and many more staff members and reporters into close proximity while Washington itself remains under a stay-at-home order. There is no way to do this without increased risk. This is the wrong example for the country,” Feinstein said in a statement. 

Feinstein — who at 86 is the oldest senator — sent a letter to McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday that said the GOP leader should change his plans “in the interest of public health and sending the right message to the nation.”

“The only things that have been shown to reduce the rate of infection are sheltering in place and social distancing, neither of which is possible if we return to the Capitol. This is not the time to back off of protective measures when the disease is not yet in check,” Feinstein wrote. 

McConnell has doubled down on his plan to bring the Senate back to Washington next week, telling Fox News Radio earlier Wednesday that senators would not “sit on the sidelines.”

“We feel like if people on the front lines are willing to work during the pandemic, we should be as well. And so the Senate will come back; we’ll be in session next week,” he added. 

Before the Senate left in late March, McConnell had lengthened the duration of Senate floor votes and moved the Senate GOP lunch into a larger room. Senate staff also had kept the chamber doors open during votes to try to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. 

McConnell added that the Senate will “practice proper safeguards” and “work safely,” including “proper spacing” and “masks where appropriate.”

But Democrats are pushing McConnell for more details, warning that without guidance in place, he is risking the lives of his fellow senators and Capitol staff. 

Though Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the only senator known to have tested positive for the virus, several other senators have had to quarantine. Capitol police have had several confirmed cases, and roughly a dozen individuals working on the Cannon House Office Building renovation have also tested positive.

Feinstein, pointing to those cases, added in her letter that “clearly the coronavirus is present at the Capitol.” 

“Bringing 100 Senators from around the country, including many coronavirus hotspots, along with many more staff, credentialed press, and others, to this environment risks all of us. It also sends the wrong message to the American people, most of whom are being asked or directed to stay at home,” she wrote.

House Democratic leadership initially announced that it also would return to Washington on Monday, after leaving town in March to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Tuesday that the House would scrap that plan, citing the opinion of the Capitol physician that it would be unsafe for lawmakers to return, in part because the Washington region has still not flattened its number of coronavirus cases. 

Asked if the Senate had received similar guidance, McConnell’s office on Tuesday declined to comment beyond the GOP leader’s scheduling announcement earlier this week.

Tags Charles Schumer Coronavirus Dianne Feinstein Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Steny Hoyer
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