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Capitol Insiders Survey: Hill aides want to leave the Capitol

A majority of staffers want to either shut down Capitol complex or hold hearings and votes remotely

There’s strong support among congressional staffers for shutting down the Capitol complex and attempting to hold hearings and votes remotely in order to protect people from the coronavirus, according to CQ Roll Call’s latest Capitol Insiders Survey.

The poll was emailed to congressional aides on March 10. They had until March 12 to respond. Of the 135 respondents, 64 were Democrats, 69 Republicans and 2 independents.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for now, isn’t considering sending representatives home, telling Democrats last week that they were “captains of the ship” and “the last to leave.”

Nonetheless, the House’s chief administrative officer is helping representatives get ready to have staffers work from home, procuring 1,500 laptop computers to sell to offices and working with aides to make their computers telework-capable.

On March 12, the sergeants-at-arms closed the Capitol and its office buildings to visitors without official business through the end of the month.

But pressure to halt large gatherings, like congressional votes or committee hearings, is growing.

A staffer for Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and an aide to Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert have tested positive for the virus. California Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff announced Sunday that a former staffer who recently left his office was diagnosed as well. Several lawmakers, including Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, have closed their offices after coming into contact with someone with the ailment. Both of the Democratic presidential contenders, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, canceled campaign rallies.

Scores of universities have closed their campuses and are attempting to conduct classes online. Major employers are closing offices. Google, for instance, has asked all of its employees in North America, Europe and Asia to work from home for the next month. Boston canceled its St. Patrick’s Day parade, while Austin, Texas, canceled the South by Southwest festival. And the NBA suspended its season.

The level of anxiety on Capitol Hill varied by party, at least among those who responded to the poll. More than half, 52 percent, of Democratic respondents said they’d like to work remotely, while another 16 percent said Congress should shut down entirely until the danger from the virus recedes. Twenty-three percent said they’d proceed as normal, with the rest unsure.

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By contrast, half of the Republican respondents said Congress should proceed as normal, with 24 percent favoring a total shutdown and 20 percent preferring to work remotely. The rest didn’t know.

The staffers also expressed strong support for congressional action to stem the virus’ economic impact, though levels of support for three proposals — a payroll tax cut, a requirement that employers provide paid sick leave, and government-funded compensation for hourly workers put out of work — varied by party.

Almost all of the Democratic aides, 93 percent, said they supported requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. Democrats have argued that employees without such leave feel obligated to go to work and are therefore more likely to spread the virus. To that end, 63 percent of the Democratic respondents said they’d favor the government compensating hourly workers forced to miss shifts.

But only 24 percent of the Democrats supported a payroll tax cut. President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating Social Security and Medicare taxes through the end of the year.

Republican staffers, 76 percent of poll respondents anyway, said they support the idea. Notably, 58 percent of the GOP aides said they also supported requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. But only 36 percent backed using government funds to compensate hourly workers forced to miss work.

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Editor’s Note: Never mind the Ides of March, beware all of March