Why the coronavirus is a unique crisis for Congress

CORONAVIRUS CRISISThe coronavirus outbreak has presented Congress with a dual set of challenges: not only are lawmakers racing to protect the nation, but they are also trying to protect themselves. On the latter front … a total of six lawmakers announced that they interacted with someone who was infected with coronavirus. And almost all of them — with the exception of Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who was seen giving Capitol tours last night — have opted to “self-quarantine” as a precautionary measure.

That includes three Republicans who had close contact with Trump after they were potentially exposed to the virus: Rep. Matt Gaetz, who rode in the Beast with Trump on Monday and then flew on Air Force One; Rep. Doug Collins, who was seen shaking hands with Trump at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta on Friday; and Rep. Mark Meadows, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, who attended a White House meeting last Tuesday along with Collins. Much more from your Huddle host: https://politi.co/2TSIfEU.

The lawmakers’ potential exposure is only upping the pressure on leadership to take additional steps to better protect members. But senior aides walked away from a briefing with the Capitol physician with many of their questions unanswered and feeling even more frustrated. Some offices have started making telework contingency plans, others are cancelling in-person town halls, signs have been plastered on several office doors saying they are no longer shaking hands and some members are even pushing legislation to make it easier for them to conduct legislative business remotely.

But leaders in both parties and chambers are vehemently swatting down the idea of closing down the Capitol to legislative business or tourist activity, with lawmakers deeply concerned that such a move would tank the markets even further. “At the present time, there is no reason for us not to continue with our vital legislative work in the Capitol,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told members in a “Dear Colleague” letter. The dispatch from Heather and Kyle: https://politi.co/2Q4seL0.

Related reads: “’There are going to be cases’: Coronavirus gets real for an aging Senate,” by Andrew and Marianne: https://politi.co/3cJFk9X; and “Unsettling day provides little coronavirus guidance for Congress,” from Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson: http://bit.ly/38D0tzi.

ON THE LEGISLATIVE FRONT … Pelosi met with her committee leaders and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Monday evening to discuss potential options to mitigate the economic impacts of an outbreak, such as paid sick leave, food stamps and enhanced unemployment insurance. Democrats are hoping to finish a stimulus package before they leave town for a weeklong recess. And Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is weighing “targeted tax relief measures that could provide a timely and effective response to the coronavirus,” according to a committee spokesperson.

Trump, meanwhile, announced he plans to ask Congress for a payroll tax cut and relief for hourly workers as part of a broader economic package. But some Democrats are already rejecting the idea of cutting the federal payroll tax, while even some Republicans seem less than thrilled with the idea. “I see folks who are being devastated, who are either losing their jobs temporarily or their hours are being cut,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) told The Hill. “We have to figure out where we can get more revenue that can make a difference for them. Payroll taxes — I don’t know if that’s the best way to go.” The story: http://bit.ly/2ILiQbb.

HAPPENING ON THE HILL TODAY … Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow will attend the Senate GOP lunch … House Democrats will hear from the Sergeant at Arms, the Chief Administrative Officer and the attending physician during their weekly caucus meeting … The House GOP will hear from health officials during their weekly conference meeting … Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee are expected to discuss coronavirus during their regular members-only meeting.

And on Thursday at 8 a.m., there will be an all-House briefing on the latest coronavirus developments, per Jake Sherman.

Related reads: “Congress Begins Mapping Out Economic Response to Virus Outbreak,” via Bloomberg’s Erik Wasson: https://bloom.bg/2vczGwm; and “From tweet eruptions to economic steps, Trump struggles for calm amid market meltdown and coronavirus crisis,” by WaPo’s Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey: https://wapo.st/336O85i.

DEEP THOUGHTS FROM SELF-QUARANTINE … “Been thinking about life and mortality today. I’d rather die gloriously in battle than from a virus. In a way it doesn’t matter. But it kinda does,” tweeted Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who is stuck in his district this week after interacting with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

And AOC clapped back on Twitter: “If it helps at all Rep. Gosar, you get roasted in committee almost every week so that’s kind of the same thing.”

GOOD MORNING! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this March 10, where your host is wishing a happy Tuesday to everyone except the people who spoiled the Bachelor finale on Twitter last night (some of us were trying to track coronavirus and FISA developments, ahem!)

MONDAY’S MOST CLICKED: Rishika Dugyala and Bres’s story on coronavirus hitting the Capitol was the big winner.

FEELINGS ON FISA — House GOP and Democratic leaders are closing in on an 11th-hour deal to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, though they haven’t finalized the agreement ahead of the March 15 deadline. Still, Republican lawmakers felt optimistic Monday after emerging from a meeting with Attorney General William Barr on Capitol Hill. “I think we’re close,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who attended the meeting. “We’re still trying to get the finals of the legislation. … We’re still negotiating.”

But a deal has been elusive so far on the sticky issue, which has exposed rifts in both parties. It’s also unclear if the House agreement will have buy-in from the Senate, where some Republicans are calling to let the law expire. Trump, of course, could upend everything if he decides not to sign it. And Doug Collins and Mark Meadows — two other major players in the FISA fight — have been temporarily sidelined due to potential coronavirus exposure, adding to the uncertainty. The story from your Huddle host, Kyle and Heather: https://politi.co/3365XBC.

Related: “Acting intelligence chief will not brief lawmakers on election security despite expectation he was coming,” by CNN’s Alex Marquardt and Zachary Cohen: https://cnn.it/2TE2Xcx.

SAGA IN THE SUBURBS — “A growing number of Republicans are working to fix the party’s most fundamental electoral problem, its rapidly diminishing support in suburbs that once were GOP strongholds,” writes WaPo’s Paul Kane. “The talks and proposals are happening outside the bounds of formal leadership circles and beyond the Republican National Committee, entities that, for now, are heavily focused on President Trump’s short-term interest of winning reelection with his continued style of pugilistic insults that alienates many suburban voters.

“Inside the Capitol, more than 40 House Republicans have rebooted the Suburban Caucus, a group that is focusing on building out policy proposals that resonate with higher-income, college-educated voters who have broken sharply from the GOP in the Trump era. … On Monday, [Rep. Ann Wagner] and other members of her caucus will be onstage at a summit arranged by N2 America, a new nonprofit started by a trio of female Republican strategists who are trying to work on both policy proposals and communications strategy for rehabilitating the GOP brand in the suburbs.” The story: https://wapo.st/2QisEh1.

Related: “Pelosi, Seeking to Insulate House Majority, Presses Plan to Lower Health Costs,” by NYT’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg: https://nyti.ms/2QisMx1.

BATTLE OF THE STEVES — “Montana Gov. Steve Bullock launched his Senate campaign Monday, a last-minute entrance that turns the race against GOP Sen. Steve Daines into a top-tier contest that could help decide control of the Senate,” reports James Arkin. “The two-term governor — who was last elected in 2016 — was a major, if unlikely, recruiting target for Democrats. He launched his presidential campaign last May and dropped out of the race in December.

“Before and after his presidential run, Bullock insisted the Senate didn’t interest him. But Democrats continued to recruit him into the race ahead of Monday’s filing deadline, hoping that if he ran it would put Montana on the map and give them another opportunity to flip a seat in the uphill battle to win back the Senate. … Daines, a first-term senator and former one-term congressman, won his first Senate campaign by double digits in 2014. Daines’ campaign manager, Shane Scanlon, touted the Republican’s record and expressed confidence voters would send him back to Washington.” The dispatch: https://politi.co/2TCRgTt.

RON JOHN REJECTS CALLS TO STALL — “Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson rebuked the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Gary Peters, for stalling a committee subpoena vote related to the Burisma investigation,” writes Kerry Picket of the Washington Examiner. “Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who is spearheading the investigation into the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings, which is connected to former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, wants to subpoena Andrii Telizhenko, a former low-level aide at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington who is now a consultant in Kyiv.”

“Since Feb. 24, Johnson and Peters have been battling over the Telizhenko subpoena. In Johnson’s initial letter to Peters, he stated his intention to issue the subpoena. Peters sent a letter to Johnson on March 1 urging Johnson to withhold the subpoena of Telizhenko until questions concerning 2020 election interference were answered by the intelligence community and the FBI Johnson sent a scathing letter Monday to Peters asking why minority staff did not follow up with the FBI if they had additional concerns.” The latest: https://washex.am/2IBa4w4.

STATUE STATUS … “Statue of Mary Mcleod Bethune will become the first of a Black woman in the U.S. Capitol thanks to the efforts of CBC Member @RepValDemings,” tweeted the Congressional Black Caucus. “By the way, Bethune’s statue will replace a statue of former confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith.”

BIG WEEKEND FOR ENGAGEMENTS! — Bobby Shields, a manager of science and technology policy at International Technology and Trade Associates, proposed to Olivia Hnat, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), on Saturday at the Wharf, where family and friends gathered at Kirwan’s for a surprise celebration. Pic Another pic

Alex Attebery, deputy comms director for the House Appropriations GOP, and Lex Kenny, a client financial management analyst at Accenture Federal Services, got engaged Saturday. They were surrounded by Highland cows — her favorite animal — and their families at a bed and breakfast in Madison, Va. Pic with a cow Another pic

Annabell McWherter has left the Hill to join Invariant as a lobbyist. She was previously the Republican counsel to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The House gavels in at 10 a.m., with first and last votes expected between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. Today’s agenda: http://bit.ly/2Q3toGm.

The Senate meets at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of S. 2657 (116), the vehicle for the chamber’s bipartisan energy package. They will then recess from 12:30 p.m. to 2:10 p.m. for party lunches, before voting between 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

The House Democratic Caucus holds a closed-door meeting at 9 a.m. in HC-5.

The House Republican Conference holds a closed-door meeting at 9 a.m. in HVC-215.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and GOP leaders hold a weekly press conference at 10 a.m. in HVC Studio A.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) hold a news conference immediately after a closed-door caucus meeting at 10:15 a.m. in HC-8.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) and Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) hold a news conference marking one year since the House s passed H.R.1, the “For The People Act” at 11 a.m. in H-207.

Schumer, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) hold a news conference to call for “passage of legislation to protect T-Band spectrum” at 12 p.m. in S-120.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) hold a news conference with members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus to discuss the introduction of legislation regarding America’s black maternal health condition at 1 p.m. in HVC Studio A.

McCarthy, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) hold a news conference on the “Trillion Trees Act” at 3:30 p.m. on the House Triangle.

MONDAY’S WINNER: Erik Ackerson was the first to guess that Jimmy Carter was the first president who was born in a hospital.

TODAY’S QUESTION: From Erik: Where was the 1918 Flu Epidemic (aka Spanish Flu) thought to have started in the U.S. and who was the president at that time? The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess my way at [email protected].

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