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House scraps plans to return to the Capitol while Senate forges ahead

States beginning to reopen amid pandemic

Washington — The House of Representatives has canceled plans to convene next week as originally planned, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Tuesday, citing the continued rise of coronavirus cases in the D.C. metro area. The Senate is still expected to return to the Capitol next week.

Hoyer told reporters that he came to the decision after consulting with the Capitol's attending physician. He also said the next legislative package to respond to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic was unlikely to be ready for a vote by next week.

"We made a judgment that we will not come back next week but that we hope to come back very soon," Hoyer said. "The House physician's view was the risk to members was not one he would recommend taking."

The House and Senate have the same attending physician.

Hoyer also encouraged House committees to conduct their work over videoconferencing for the foreseeable future. He said in an email to House members that "they will be given sufficient notice of when they would need to return to Washington, DC."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Tuesday that the House had "no choice" but to not reconvene.

"We had no choice. The Capitol physician recommends that we not come back, then we have to take that guidance in the interest of the safety of the people who work here, the custodians in the building, those who have to be here more because we're here — the press, the staff, the members of congress, the staff of congress as well who make the congress run in addition to our own staff," Pelosi said.

Hoyer also said in a statement that the bipartisan Virtual Congress Task Force met Tuesday "over safe and secure videoconferencing technology for a positive discussion."

"Today's call was an example of how effective remote work in the House can be," Hoyer said. "As a result of today's meeting, we are encouraging all House committees to hold remote roundtables to further test these new platforms."

Stay-at-home orders are in effect in the nation's capital until at least May 15. The region is also one of the hot spots of the virus, with over 35,000 cases in Washington, Virginia and Maryland, according to the Washington Post. There are nearly 4,000 cases of the coronavirus in the district alone. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of infectious diseases research at the National Institutes of Health, also said Tuesday that he did not believe the city had "turned the corner."

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that the Senate would return on May 4 to address the "urgent need" for additional legislation to combat the pandemic.

"We will modify routines in ways that are smart and safe, but we will honor our constitutional duty to the American people and conduct critical business in person," McConnell said. "If it is essential for doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, truck drivers, grocery-store workers, and many other brave Americans to keep carefully manning their own duty stations, then it is essential for senators to carefully man ours and support them."

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said McConnell was "putting thousands of Capitol employees at risk" by calling the Senate back to Washington.

"McConnell is calling the Senate back in, ignoring DC's stay at home order and putting thousands of Capitol employees at risk. Not to do oversight of Trump's pandemic response. Not to pass a new relief bill. But to ram through more conservative judges," Murphy wrote on Twitter.

In a call with Democratic senators on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged members of his Congress to press for more oversight hearings regarding the virus.

"If we are going to be in DC with the coronavirus raging, it is critically important that we continue and actually ramp up our messaging and activities on the oversight front," Schumer said on the call, according to a Democratic source on the call.

Schumer said there needs to be public senate oversight hearings on testing, small business lending programs, unemployment insurance, and confirmation of appointees to the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Commission, including the chairperson.

Hoyer also told reporters on Tuesday that the House would tackle providing additional funding for state and local governments in the next coronavirus relief package. McConnell initially resisted providing federal assistance for states, suggesting that states could instead declare bankruptcy. In an interview with Politico on Monday, McConnell walked back those comments, saying it was "highly likely" the next package would include aid for local governments.

Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.

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