Maintain social distancing. Avoid large groups. No indoor gatherings. Those guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be all but abandoned Wednesday when Congress gathers to certify the Electoral College vote of the 2020 election.
The joint session of Congress will mean as many as 535 members that comprise the House and Senate will come together in the House chamber at one time.
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer said the chamber is working to maintain more safety protocols but acknowledged that keeping what could be 535 members in compliance will not be easy.
“It is tough, but we’re going to admonish them again. And all of us break the rule, unfortunately .. because that’s the normal way we respond,” he told CNN Monday. “We also think we’re wearing masks, we might be safe.”
“But what we will do is admonish members to stay apart, don’t get close to one another,” he added.
Contrary to the rules that governed the Opening Session in the House — which limited the number of members on the floor to 72, but was rendered moot when a majority of the House gathered en masse on the floor following a call for a recorded vote by Rep. Chip Roy — there won’t be a limit on the number of people in the chamber on Wednesday, according to a senior Democratic aide.
The House is set to deploy the same mitigation measures that have been in place — mandated mask wearing while on the floor, marking off seats to maintain social distancing, and opening the gallery for members to spread out. And, according to the rules governing the certification, members are not required to be in the chamber, and are highly encouraged to watch the proceedings from their offices.
However, the aide said, few members are expected to want to miss the debate of the certification process and leadership is expecting a very full chamber — which means hundreds of members are expected to gather together on the House floor amid a pandemic.
Voting, when it occurs, will happen in the same seven blocks that were used during Sunday’s roll call vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will again allow proxy voting through Feb. 18, which allows members to vote through another member.
“In consultation with the Office of Attending Physician, that a public health emergency is in effect due to a novel coronavirus, I am hereby designating a “covered period” pursuant to section 3(s) of House Resolution 8, until February 18, 2021,” she wrote.
This comes as GOP Rep. Kay Granger becomes the latest lawmaker to announce in a statement she has tested positive for coronavirus. She was seen on the House floor Sunday for the roll call vote of the 117th Congress.
“When she arrived in DC for the beginning of the 117th Congress, Congresswoman Kay Granger was tested for coronavirus in accordance with the Attending Physician’s guidance for Members when traveling from their home state,” her office said in a statement provided by CNN. “She was later notified that she tested positive and immediately quarantined. Having received the vaccine in December, she is asymptomatic and feeling great! She will remain under the care of the her doctor.”
This also came after the first day of the 117th Congress on Sunday, where hundreds of members were seen gathering on the House floor. Additionally, some members who had Covid-19 voted for Speaker of the House on Sunday through a “secure enclosure” after being exposed to someone with Covid-19 but then testing negative for the virus. Nebraska GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry voted for House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy from the plexiglass-enclosed area above the House floor, wearing both a mask and a face shield.