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A formidable coronavirus meets its match: New Jersey gas stations, liquor control boards, Capitol hobnobbing

Political Theater, Episode 124

New York Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Max Rose wear face masks as they walk down the House steps Thursday before the chamber passed the $483.4 billion economic relief package.
New York Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Max Rose wear face masks as they walk down the House steps Thursday before the chamber passed the $483.4 billion economic relief package. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The coronavirus pandemic has upended daily life as we know it. But it might have met its match in some truly indelible parts of our culture: full-service gas stations in New Jersey; the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board; and voting in person in Congress.

New Jersey is still the only state in the country to strictly forbid self-service at gas stations, despite pleas from the trade associations representing gasoline retailers and consumers themselves who don’t want to be handing their credit card or cash back and forth to an attendant well within social distancing guidelines.

Pennsylvania did not decree its liquor stores as essential workers, and since sales are so heavily regulated in the Keystone State, thirsty imbibers were forced across state lines for easier booze pickup options. (Although this likely ignited nostalgia among fans of “Smokey and the Bandit” to make such runs.)

And then there’s Congress. As everyone, from school districts to multinational corporations to other governments, has quickly figured out a way to conduct educational and business efforts online or remotely, Congress still finds itself stuck in the 18th century when it comes to how it votes, conducts oversight and manages the people’s business. That is despite having a membership that is tailor-made to be disease vectors, with its extensive travel and contacts across the country, as well as having several members in high-risk health categories.

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., announced Monday that their chambers would return to Capitol Hill on May 4, at a time when COVID-19 infections are increasing in the region, it prompted a lot of concern.

After Hoyer heard recommendations from the Office of the Attending Physician, he reversed the decision to call back the House, choosing to be better safe than sorry when it comes to the health of members and staff.

McConnell, not so much. Although he is willing to disregard the caution of the attending physician, there is little evidence that the chamber is making any preparations to protect staff or journalists. For some reason, the urge to be at the Capitol in person is taking precedence, although the majority leader has never been shy about sharing his dedication and affection for confirming President Donald Trump’s nominees to the federal judiciary and executive branch.

What makes these things so invulnerable to change? In addition to tradition, there is ample concern that a temporary change can become a permanent one. That’s a tough fear to dispel, whether it means you have to learn to pump your own gas as an adult or just want to do things a certain way because, well, that’s how it’s always been done. Regardless of the risks.

Show Notes:

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