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Congress won’t be back until May at the earliest

McConnell says decision to extend Senate recess was bipartisan

A man crosses North Capitol Street on M Street during the coronavirus outbreak on  April 3. Congressional leaders delayed their return to the capital this week, and now won't return until May at the earliest.
A man crosses North Capitol Street on M Street during the coronavirus outbreak on April 3. Congressional leaders delayed their return to the capital this week, and now won't return until May at the earliest. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate will not return to Washington for regular legislative action before May 4, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday. The move follows a Monday announcement that the House will also push back its expected return date until May.

“As the country continues working together to flatten the curve, following the advice of health experts, the full Senate is not expected to travel back to Washington D.C. sooner than Monday, May 4th. All members will receive at least 24 hours’ notice if this changes,” McConnell said in a statement.

The Senate was scheduled to return for regular legislative business on April 20, with the nomination of Robert J. Feitel to be inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as its first agenda item. McConnell said Senate leaders in both parties were part of the decision and emphasized that senators are continuing to work in their home states, despite not being able to meet on Capitol Hill.

“The coronavirus does not take days off and the United States Senate must not either, wherever we are,” the Kentucky Republican said.

The Senate has been in recess since March when it passed a multi-trillion-dollar economic aid bill to counter the coronavirus.

Talks to top off funds in the Small Business Administration’s $349 billion appropriation, expected to run out by Friday, began last week between top Democratic leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But sources familiar with the discussions say not much progress was made over the weekend, due in part to the Easter holiday.

[Small-business funds dwindle as virus aid package sputters]

Lawmakers hope to pass more coronavirus aid funding by unanimous consent during pro-forma sessions, allowing them to remain home in their districts.

Last week, senators were already casting doubts on whether the chamber would be able to come back the week of April 20.

Missouri Republican Roy Blunt noted that some state legislatures had come back in session with modified rules, but he called an April return “unlikely.”

He also said it was too early to say whether temperature checks or mandatory masks would be required to protect members when they did return.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin said an April return would be “dangerous and risky.”

The Illinois Democrat told Politico he was aware of at least one of his colleagues who self-quarantined for two weeks in a hotel room before seeing his family, and believed much of the most pressing Senate work could be accomplished by unanimous consent until conditions in the country improve.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced Monday that the chamber wouldn’t likely return for the resumption of regular business in Washington until May 4, but with another round of coronavirus economic aid legislation in the works, lawmakers could be called back before then.

“If the House is required to take action on critical legislation related to the coronavirus response or other legislative priorities, members will be given sufficient notice to return to Washington, DC,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement Monday.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey said Monday that the previous estimate for lawmakers to return on April 20 was not possible in her view.

“I have no interest in going back now. How do you get there? Train? Plane? Last time I got there, I drove for about five hours. People across the country are not going to take a chance. Unless it’s safe, I think we are better off doing our work, as we have been doing, passing bills by unanimous consent,” the New York Democrat said on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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