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Campus Notebook: Missing the windowless Dunkin’ during COVID-19 pandemic

Staffers describe what it’s like working while practicing social distancing, two beloved lawmakers are remembered and more Capitol complex closures

Everyone is adapting to the new normal: social distancing and isolation, and for many staffers on Capitol Hill that means working from home.

Here are a couple of insights into how these employees are faring during this time.

One Democratic staffer wrote that working from home is a huge change from the normal day-to-day of Capitol Hill.

“I’ve found working from home to be a challenge. As a DC based staffer, my day was typically defined by navigating crowded hallways between meetings, staffing the boss at events, and catching up with colleagues and reporters in everyone’s favorite windowless Dunkin Donuts.

“For our District counterparts, they’re used to being out in the community attending meetings, representing the Member wherever they can, and helping constituents both in the office or wherever they may be. The coronavirus pandemic has made executing those duties in a traditional way impossible.

“Even just the fundamentals of scheduling has become a constant brain-storm of how we can utilize digital communications to be with our constituents even when we can physically ‘be with’ them. Regular video conferences and phone calls help, but there’s certainly been a learning curve to figuring out how to perform a duty that is fundamentally people-focused while needing to limit contact with people.

“There does seem to be a sense of togetherness and collective action among staff and Members, though. We’re all working hard and trading best practices and successes to keep the constituents we serve up to speed on the latest news so we can come out on the other side of this safe and healthy.”

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A Republican staffer said the transition has been an adjustment.

“I mean, real talk, I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. I think everyone is doing the best they can during the situation. Working from home has still been extremely productive, but it definitely has been an adjustment.”

Another Democratic staffer is grateful for support staff and laments the lack of spring training baseball and college hoops at this time.

“Our office is fortunate we have laptops, phones and VPNs set up to be mostly operational. Can’t thank the IT professionals on Capitol Hill enough to get us up and running. It’s weird not being in an office and having physical meetings, but the wonders of technology are helping us move forward.

“Honestly, I took my first walk outside yesterday in three days. Couldn’t tell much had changed until I walked down P Street and up 14th. Businesses definitely hurting.

“Our boss is going nonstop. Although our offices are physically closed, he has a full schedule of small meetings and video/telephone calls. Has stressed to us that this is no time to blame game — Just get stuff done on behalf of the people of our district.

“Worst part about being home with nice weather? No baseball or March Madness. I know that pales in comparison to what the world is dealing with, but doesn’t mean we can’t mourn the lack of sports.

“Can’t wait to get back in the saddle aka my desk chair.”

Richard Hanna: 1951-2020

Former Republican Rep. Richard Hanna, a three-term lawmaker from upstate New York, died March 15 in Oneida County from cancer. He was 69. Hanna was first elected to Congress in 2011 and served until 2017.

He made a splash in the 2016 presidential race when he emerged as the first Republican in Congress to pledge support for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in an August 2016 op-ed for Syracuse.com. Hanna said Donald Trump was “unfit to serve our party and cannot lead this country.” Additionally, he said of Clinton: “I trust she can lead. All Republicans may not like the direction, but they can live to win or lose another day with a real candidate.”

When news of Hanna’s death broke, it elicited remorseful statements from both parties in Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who commended his leadership on marriage equality.

“Congressman Hanna was a leader of great integrity who always put patriotism and principles before politics, including when he became one of the first sitting Republican Members of Congress to support marriage equality,” the California Democrat said.

One of his home-state GOP colleagues recalled times with him on the floor.

“He was a wonderful colleague & friend,” Rep. Elise Stefanik tweeted. “My heart & prayers go out to Richard’s beloved wife & his young children who he loved to tell stories about on the House Floor.”

New York’s junior senator, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, called Hanna “a true public servant who worked to further our shared values and do the right thing, often setting aside partisan politics in the process.”

Hanna graduated from Reed College in 1976 and was a business owner before his ascent to Congress.

Amo Houghton: 1926-2020

Former Republican Rep. Amo Houghton, who represented New York’s Southern Tier for nine terms, died March 4 at the age of 93 at his home in Corning.

Before his election to Congress in 1986, Houghton served in the Marine Corps and worked as a business executive at Corning Glass. He ended his congressional career in 2005.

Houghton’s death generated heartfelt statements from leaders spanning the political spectrum.

Clinton, who was New York’s junior senator during Houghton’s last four years in the House, recalled first meeting him when she was first lady, “when he championed everything from health care reform to aid to Africa.”

“We didn’t agree on every issue — in fact, we had our fair share of spirited disagreements — but we forged an unexpected friendship,” Clinton wrote in an op-ed for The (Corning) Leader.

“Our friendship reminded me of the best traditions and highest aspirations of our country. The strongly-held and passionately argued differences among our Founders are well-documented. But what distinguished them and allowed for the birth of the United States was their ability to always find consensus — to come back to ‘union’ in every document they wrote,” she added.

New York GOP Rep. Tom Reed, who represents much of the territory Houghton once did, recalled how close his family was to the late congressman’s. “My grandfather bounced Amo on his knee working for the Houghton family more than 90 years ago,” he said in a statement.

“Our nation has lost a true hero, and our hometown of Corning has lost a great ambassador,” Reed said. “He will be missed by all.”

Coronavirus closings on Capitol Complex

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Library of Congress buildings and facilities are closed to the public until April 1.

“Because the health and safety of Library employees and visitors is our first priority, the Library is carefully and continuously monitoring information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local area health departments, and our Federal partners so the Library can respond rapidly as conditions change regarding COVID-19 coronavirus,” a statement from the library reads.

Further, the library also canceled all public events until May 11 to reduce people’s exposure to the virus.

The Capitol Visitor Center and the Conservatory of the United States Botanic Garden remain closed to the public until April 1.

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