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House Democrats postpone caucus retreat over coronavirus concerns

Annual event had been scheduled for April 1-3 in Philadelphia

House Democrats’ annual retreat that had been scheduled for April 1-3 in Philadelphia has been indefinitely postponed because of concerns about the coronavirus, the caucus announced Thursday.

The retreat postponement is just the latest in a growing series of actions Congress is taking to protect its members and staff amid a growing number of U.S. cases caused by the novel coronavirus, including a Senate staffer who tested positive for COVID-19.

Several congressional offices have closed, with staffers asked to work remotely, over concerns about the virus spreading on the Hill. Capitol tours will stop at close of business Thursday through the end of the month, and visitor access will be limited to those with official business.

The decisions being made on the Hill also come after the World Health Organization officially declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. The District of Columbia declared a state of emergency Wednesday and recommended against any gatherings of 1,000 or more people.

The Democratic Caucus retreat, although scheduled for outside of Washington, easily draws more than 1,000 attendees, including lawmakers, their families, staff, press and guest speakers.

Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday that he had nothing public to share and that the caucus was focused on finalizing its stimulus legislation that committee leaders unveiled later that night.

Party caucus retreats are an opportunity for lawmakers to discuss policy ideas and goals for the coming year. They usually occur in January or February, but this year the House scheduled them for April after a hectic year-end schedule and lack of time to pull all the logistics together.

House Republicans have not yet announced plans to postpone their annual retreat, scheduled for April 22-24 at a yet-to-be-announced location. But conference leaders had suggested Wednesday that they would consider it.

“We need to look at what is likely to happen in terms of the spread of the virus and make sure that we’re doing everything we can to help get us off of the very steep curve that some other countries have been on,” said Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, the Republican Conference vice chairman, told CQ Roll Call it was premature to decide on whether to hold the retreat.

“Maybe by the end of next week, when we first get back in session the following week, we’re going to lay out some timelines, especially if this thing hasn’t been the de-trending,” he said.

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