House leaders abruptly reversed course Tuesday and said that the House of Representatives will not be returning to Washington next week.
The announcement comes a day after House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the House would return on Monday, May 4, Politico reported.
“We made a judgement that we will not come back next week but that we hope to come back very soon,” Hoyer said Tuesday.
Hoyer and Pelosi had consulted Monday with Congress’ attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, who said that lawmakers could be at risk because of the rising number of coronavirus cases in the Washington, D.C. area.
“The House physician’s view was that there was a risk to members that was one he would not recommend taking,” Hoyer said.
“The House doctor, when I talked to him yesterday, was concerned because the numbers in the District of Columbia are going up,” he added, according to ABC News. “They’re not flat and they’re not going down.”
Hoyer and Pelosi’s initial announcement that the body would be reconvening in Washington on May 4 caught both Democrats and Republicans off guard, with some lawmakers saying House leadership did not consult with them before making the call.
“We have a bipartisan committee of six meeting on it and they decided without talking to us,” one senior Republican lawmaker told Politico.
A task force comprised of lawmakers from both parties, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Hoyer, has been discussing safe ways for lawmakers to conduct votes and committee business virtually, according to The Hill.
“We are going to be working in the interim on trying to facilitate committees meeting in a real way, but virtually, and provisions for the House of the Representatives to meet if in fact members cannot come back because of the virus,” Hoyer said.
One idea supported by House Democratic leaders is proxy voting, where an absent member of the House could authorize someone else physically present to cast their vote for them.
The rule change was set to be voted on last week, but the vote was called off after the idea was met with disapproval from Republicans.
The Senate still intends to follow through on plans to return on May 4.
“We’re going to take whatever safeguards the Capitol physician recommends that we engage in and we believe we can do that safely,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Politico on Monday.
“Look, it doesn’t make sense for the Senate to sit on the sidelines while a lot of other people are going to work every day and trying to get us through this.”
Washington, D.C.’s stay-at-home order is in effect until at least May 15.
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