House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to the media during her weekly briefing March 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
The House will not come back to Washington until at least May 4 unless it needs to pass emergency measures to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer‘s office told representatives Monday.
The chamber previously expected lawmakers to return on April 20 after an extended absence. It is unclear if the Senate, which is expected to return to the Capitol next week, will follow suit.
House members, most of whom have been in their districts for all of April as Covid-19 spreads, will not have to travel to Washington before May 4 “absent an emergency,” the Maryland Democrat’s office said. It added that lawmakers would get “sufficient notice” if they have to travel to Washington to vote on coronavirus legislation.
As efforts to stall the coronavirus’ spread have wrecked the U.S. economy, Congress has hit a deadlock in looking for ways to build on the unprecedented $2 trillion relief package it passed last month to limit the damage. Senate Republicans last week tried to pass a bill to inject $250 billion more into a small business loan program set up in the rescue legislation. Democrats blocked the measure, then the GOP rejected a Democratic counter offer that included more money for states and hospitals fighting the pandemic, along with funding for food assistance programs.
While Democrats have held some discussions with the Trump administration on the issue, neither major party’s congressional leaders have showed a willingness to back down from their demands yet. In a joint statement Monday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reiterated their demands from last week’s proposal.
“We have real problems facing this country, and it’s time for the Republicans to quit the political posturing by proposing bills they know will not pass either chamber and get serious and work with us towards a solution,” they said.
Republicans refused to back down over the weekend. In a joint statement Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said they “reject Democrats’ reckless threat to continue blocking job-saving funding unless we renegotiate unrelated programs which are not in similar peril.”
Congress can pass legislation with few people present, as long as no one lawmaker opposes the bill. But the House’s attempt to pass the $2 trillion rescue package last month underscored the risks of the strategy.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., went to Washington insisting on a recorded vote, which would require House members to come to the Capitol to cast votes. Representatives rushed back to Washington, and once a majority of lawmakers were present, they passed the bill by voice vote, which simply measures if the “yeas” or “nays” are louder.
While Congress has been out of the Capitol, the coronavirus has taken a steeper human and economic toll. U.S. Covid-19 cases now top 560,000, and the disease has been linked to more than 22,800 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, more than 16 million people have filed new jobless claims over a three-week period.