As the new coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, some have speculated that Congress may go on an extended recess, vacating Capitol Hill until health officials can get a handle on the virus’ spread.
But when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) suggested as much during a closed-door meeting among House Democrats on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) immediately shot him down, according to The Hill.
Citing unnamed sources said to have been present at the meeting Tuesday, The Hill reported that Pelosi appeared closed to the idea of shutting down congressional proceedings in the midst of what has now been ruled a pandemic.
“We are the captains of the ship. We are the last to leave,” Pelosi reportedly said, echoing a remark earlier in the meeting from Navy veteran and New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D), according to The Hill.
Concerns about coronavirus
House Democrats were briefed on Tuesday by the congressional physician’s office, Capitol Police, and the House Administration Committee, who spoke on the coronavirus and actions that members of Congress and their staff can take to reduce the threat of infection.
According to The Hill’s sources, Nadler suggested afterward that members be permitted to return to the perceived safety of their home districts to ride out the coronavirus storm. But Pelosi wasn’t having it.
Still, Nadler isn’t alone in his concern about being exposed to COVID-19 on Capitol Hill. A number of congressional representatives fall into the age demographic most at risk of contracting the virus, including Pelosi and Nadler, who are both in their 70s. According to The Hill, “the average age of House members is 57.6 years.”
Moreover, many members of Congress have underlying health issues that make them more susceptible to contracting the respiratory disease, including Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who is battling cancer, according to The Hill.
Crisis at the Capitol
But as Democrats mull whether or not to close the House doors in light of COVID-19, it may already be too late. Breitbart reports that several members of Congress and their staffers have already announced voluntary self-quarantines after learning that they may have come into contact with individuals who have since tested positive for the disease.
Those interactions took place at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, according to Breitbart. Five Republicans have since announced they would be isolating themselves, including Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, Trump’s incoming chief of staff.
Separately, Democrat Rep. Julia Brownley (CA) is in isolation after coming into contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Still, Pelosi seems to have put her foot down about the House breaking for an extended recess. It looks like the Dems are determined to go down with the ship.