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House may cancel recesses, extend legislative weeks for days lost to pandemic

‘I would urge you to keep your schedules very flexible,’ Hoyer says in letter to colleagues

The U.S. Capitol Dome reflects on an ambulance parked outside of the Capitol on Monday.
The U.S. Capitol Dome reflects on an ambulance parked outside of the Capitol on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As the House loses time in legislative session due to the coronavirus pandemic, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer warned members Tuesday that he may make up for days lost by canceling recesses or extending legislative weeks in the future.

“I would urge you to keep your schedules very flexible,” the Maryland Democrat said in a “Dear Colleague” letter. “In order to make up for time that has been lost, the House may meet during weeks that had previously been scheduled as district work periods, and four-day weeks may become five-day weeks. While we have lost legislative days, we have not reduced the amount of work we have to do.”

[Coronavirus renders US Capitol a ghost town through most of April]

Hoyer had announced Monday that the House, which is currently in an extended district work period, would not return before April 20. But the return date remains fluid.

President Donald Trump has extended social distancing guidelines suggesting people not gather in groups larger than 10 people through the end of April. Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia all issued stay-at-home orders Monday that are expected to last several weeks, if not months.

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“We will listen to the advice from medical experts as to when we can proceed with the business of Congress in Washington, so it is not possible to give a definitive return date,” Hoyer said in his letter Tuesday. “In the meantime, we will continue working from our districts on behalf of the American people.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on a press call Monday that while her committee chairs have begun work on a fourth bill to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, she doesn’t anticipate a bipartisan product being ready until after the Easter and Passover holidays.

House leadership and committee leaders have discussed options for conducting electronic hearings and remote committee work over the next few weeks while the House is not in session in Washington, Pelosi said.

“We have what the possibilities are,” the California Democrat said. “We will make some decisions working with the chairman.”

The House return date may be influenced by when the fourth coronavirus response package is ready for a vote. The House adjourned after passing the second package early March 13. Slightly more than half of its members briefly returned to Washington to pass the third package on March 27.

The House will have lost at least two legislative weeks due to the pandemic, and could lose more if leadership delays the return date beyond April 20. Hoyer said there is work the chamber would be doing that it will need to make up and thus future schedule changes may be needed.

“In addition to continuing to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we need to handle the normal annual business of Congress, as well as the work we have promised in our For the People agenda,” he said. “I know that all of us are committed to doing what needs to be done. We will make decisions on the future schedule of the House as soon as the facts allow.”

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