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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is rolling the dice as he reconvenes the Senate next week.
The majority leader insists this can be done in a safe manner – although the Office of the Attending Physician, the Senate Sergeant at Arms and other congressional officials have yet to release any guidelines for how the Senate can conduct its business safely.
Lots of senators are concerned, including the Senate’s oldest member, 86-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. The California Democrat asked McConnell to “reconsider” his decision, noting there was “increased risk.” It comes as Washington D.C. announced 19 new coronavirus deaths, making Wednesday the deadliest day in the district so far.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also has reservations about reconvening the Senate.
“Senator McConnell has not given us a plan as to how we are going to comply with the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia rules to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
Van Hollen wrote to McConnell, expressing concern about the safety of people in the Washington, D.C., area who work on Capitol Hill.
“We don’t want to endanger the health staff and we don’t want to undermine the efforts of the region to stop the spread of the virus," continued Van Hollen. “This is a hot spot right now.”
Convening the Senate involves a lot more than just bringing 100 people to the chamber. It also means the Capitol will be littered with aides, institutional staff, U.S. Capitol Police officers, custodial staff, cafeteria staff and journalists.
“There is really no way to do this safely at this stage,” said one Senate aide. “I’m worried.”
Many Republicans say it’s important to start re-opening the economy. Plus, unlike the House, the Senate has the responsibility of confirming nominees.
In an appearance on Fox News Radio’s "Brian Kilmeade Show" this week, McConnell said: "We feel like if people on the front lines are willing to work during the pandemic, we should be as well. And so, the Senate will come back; we'll be in session next week.”
The House was slated to return next week, but cancelled due to advice from the Capitol attending physician. Dr. Brian Monahan serves as the attending physician for both the House and Senate. On Fox, host Sandra Smith asked McConnell if he consulted with Monahan about re-opening the Senate or if the doctor offered different medical advice to the Senate. McConnell ducked the question.
The Senate may be in session next week, but don’t expect legislation on coronavirus. It’s unclear if or when the Senate will do another bill. McConnell continues to advocate for legislation to curb liability during coronavirus.
The Senate has scheduled multiple hearings next week. On the docket: an Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on the nomination of Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to be the director of National Intelligence. There’s a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on state of the airline industry during coronavirus. The Senate health panel also has a hearing teed up late next week on coronavirus testing.
The Senate GOPers are also still planning to do daily policy lunches – although Fox News is told they plan to spread everyone out. Senate Democrats will continue their conclaves over conference calls.
Senate action really won’t roll until Tuesday morning with the Ratcliffe hearing. The Senate has a confirmation vote scheduled for Monday night on the nomination of Robert Feitel to serve on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, this isn’t.
“The last thing we want is for the United States Senate to become part of a coronavirus vector that undermines the efforts of (the National Capital) Region,” said Van Hollen.