Senate expected to return May 4, following extended recess during pandemic

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WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed Monday that the Senate will return for business on May 4, which is 11 days before the current stay-at-home order in Washington, D.C., expires.

“Senators will return to Washington D.C. one week from today. 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,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement.

He added that the Senate will work on legislation to protect companies and health care workers from “opportunistic lawsuits” as the economy reopens. He said that liability provisions in the coronavirus response packages already signed into law were a start but that they need to be expanded and strengthened.

“Our nation is facing the worst pandemic in over a century and potentially the worst economic shock since the Great Depression. Our response must not be slowed, weakened, or exploited to set up the biggest trial lawyer bonanza in history,” McConnell said.

The Senate left Washington in late March, extending its Easter and Passover recess early over concerns about the spread of coronavirus. McConnell subsequently extended the break for another two weeks, saying earlier this month that the Senate would not return to Washington “sooner than Monday, May 4th.”

With a return now set for next week, the Senate is expected to stay in Washington through May 22 before leaving for a weeklong Memorial Day recess, according to the schedule. But many on Capitol Hill have acknowledged that the previously announced calendar for 2020 has been upended and more changes could be ahead.

McConnell and others in Republican leadership oppose implementing remote voting during the pandemic. When Kentucky Republican Rand Paul tried to pass a resolution last week to allow senators to vote remotely, McConnell blocked it on the floor.

As senators make their way back to Washington, it is not yet clear what expectations will be for staffers. Each senator’s office is run independently, which gives lawmakers the freedom to tell staff to continue working from home or to come back to the office. During recent sessions in which the Senate passed coronavirus legislation, some staff for the chamber itself operated in staggered shifts.

House leaders have also said that chamber is not expected to return to Capitol Hill before May 4, but there has not been a definitive announcement about the schedule for next week.

“Any decision that we have about when we come back rests with the sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol physician. Hopefully things will get better, who knows,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters during a news conference last week.

Public transit modes in Washington, Virginia and Maryland are operating on extremely reduced schedules and schools remain closed, which may cause staff to remain working from home despite the Senate’s return to legislative activity.

“I look forward to seeing all my colleagues next Monday,” McConnell said in Monday’s statement.


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