Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) resisted calls from her colleagues, including prominent New York Democrat Jerry Nader, to close Congress and send Members back to their home disticts, insisting that Federal legislators are the “captains of this ship” and that they will be the “last to leave” despite increasing concerns over coronavirus in Washington, D.C.
Pelosi, The Hill reports, has been “feeling pressure” from members of her caucus to release Members from their duties so that they can escape the growing health crisis in the nation’s capital, especially in light of an announcement Wednesday night that a staffer in Sen. Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) office has tested positive for coronavirus.
“The individual has been in isolation since starting to have symptoms. On the advice of the Attending Physician, the senator has closed her Washington, D.C. office this week for deep cleaning and staff will be teleworking,” Cantwell’s office told CNN Wednesday night.
Several other Members of Congress, who may have had contact with an infected individual during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) two weeks ago — “Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, along with Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Doug Collins of Georgia, Paul Gosar of Arizona and Mark Meadows of North Carolina,” per CNN — have self-quarantined, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced Thursday morning that his office would close temporarily so that staff can monitor their health and self-quarantine if necessary.
Two additional Democrats are also clearing offices, according to the network. “Rep. Julia Brownley of California announced on Monday that she and her staff are working remotely after finding out that she recently came into contact with someone who tested positive. On Tuesday, Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia announced that he will self-quarantine after learning that a friend he interacted with recently tested positive.”
The building where Congress meets is also now closed. The House and Senate sergeants at arms announced Thursday morning that the United States Capitol building will close to the public on Thursday at 5pm and will not reopen for tours or visits until at least April 1. “Lawmakers, aides, journalists and official visitors will be allowed into the buildings,” according to The Associated Press.
Officials with the sergeants at arms offices say that they are acting “out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public” and not as a result of any specific threat.
Pelosi and others continue to draft coronavirus response bills, competing with the White House to offer relief packages to businesses — particularly those in the travel industry — that have been impacted by shutdowns, self-quarantines, “social distancing” policies, and travel bans.
She insists that Congress will not abandon their jobs, even if the disease closes in.
“We are the captains of the ship. We are the last to leave,” she told her caucus.
Congress does begin its spring recess next week, though, and given the fluidity of the situation, the Congress’s “vacation” could be extended, though Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that she’s not making any promises.
“That’s not planned,” she told The Hill in reference to an open-ended recess.
House Democrats anticipate having coronavirus-related legislation available Thursday.