House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced Tuesday, April 28, 2020, that the House would delay returning on Monday, May 4, after discussing the situation with the Capitol Hill physician. The Congressman pointed to the continuing increases in coronavirus cases in Washington, DC, going from 3,098 to 3,994 between April 20 and April 27. Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said that the city has not yet reached its peak. As of Thursday April 30, the Washington region (Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia) experienced 1,995 new cases as of 5 pm and at least 111 deaths in the previous 24 hours. Bowser has extended the city’s stay-at-home order through May 15, a total of 4,327 Washington D.C. residents have become infected with Covid-19 as of Thursday, April 30, resulting in 225 deaths. Many of the deaths and known cases in Maryland are found in the two D.C. adjoining areas of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
Despite the concerns by the House, Majority Leader McConnell continued to say the Senate will be formally back on Monday, May 4, but would “modify routines in ways that are smart and safe.” Technically the Senate continues to hold “pro-forma” sessions meaning that senators are not in attendance even though they have not adjourned. Such sessions meant that the fourth coronavirus bill was approved without having a majority of senators present and voting. Instead, a simple voice vote is binding if a single senator is not present to object.
When the House of Representatives voted on the last coronavirus legislation, members were asked to stay in their offices except for during their confirmed speaking time during the debate.
Beyond that, they could come to the House floor only during their voting group’s ten-minute window to vote and to return to their offices. Members were given notice from the Whip’s office about when their group should come to the floor for votes, and between final votes, the House chamber was cleared so that it could be cleaned for 30 minutes.
It is unclear what Senator McConnell’s plan will look like after modification, but he said he would extend the Senate voting time from the traditional 20 minutes to 30 minutes. He also appears eager to approve more judicial nominations, and the Senate Judiciary Chair, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), is attempting to hold a confirmation hearing this week.
Capitol Hill physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, said Thursday that there is not sufficient capacity to test all 100 senators but did say they would have capacity to test senators and staff who fall ill. Congress tends to be older, in age, with almost half of the Senate over the age of 65. Any unexpected illness or positive tests could throw the Senate leadership plans off. Beyond actual votes on legislation, it is less clear how House and Senate Committees will conduct hearings and debates. Some committee rooms can be small, even if members are the only ones in attendance. Officially both sides and houses have said the annual appropriations and deliberation over 12 bills will continue.