WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives will not return to Washington next week as planned, due to the continuing risk of coronavirus infection, Democratic leaders said on Tuesday, a reversal of plans outlined only a day earlier.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the decision to keep the chamber on an extended recess after discussing the situation with the official House physician, as well as House members.
“The numbers (of coronavirus cases) in the District of Columbia are still going up,” Hoyer told reporters. “The House physician’s view was that there was a risk to members that was one he would not recommend taking.”
With the Republican-run Senate returning to session next week, President Donald Trump, a Republican, accused the Democrat-led House of not wanting to work. “They’re enjoying their vacation,” he told reporters at the White House. “You look at Nancy Pelosi eating ice cream on late-night television.”
Pelosi, who showed off a home freezer full of ice cream in a recent television interview, retorted that Trump had been in denial about the danger posed by the coronavirus.
“This president has presided over the worst disaster in our country’s history, an assault on the lives and the livelihoods of the American people, and he did so by neglect of information, also denial and delay in accepting the facts,” Pelosi told MSNBC.
“I have ice cream in my freezer; I guess that’s better than having Lysol in somebody’s lungs,” she said, referring to a suggestion Trump made last week that coronavirus researchers try putting disinfectants into patients’ bodies.
The U.S. death toll from the virus on Tuesday reached 58,233, exceeding the 58,220 American lives lost during the Vietnam War, according to a Reuters tally.
Congress has not met in regular session since last month, though it has passed major coronavirus relief bills worth nearly $3 trillion, partly by using rules allowing bills to pass with just a small number of lawmakers present. Last week the full House met one day to approve the most recent, $484 billion coronavirus package.
Hoyer said the House intends to return to Washington soon to complete a new coronavirus response bill that Democrats have vowed to use as a vehicle for funneling hundreds of billions of dollars in assistance to state and local governments. He said he hoped House committees would be able to work remotely while the chamber is out.
In a separate call with reporters, Pelosi said it appeared $500 billion would be needed for states, and possibly “a very big figure also for counties and municipalities” as they grapple with the coronavirus. Lawmakers have already provided $150 billion to state and local governments in previous coronavirus legislation.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned that state and local governments would see “massive” layoffs without more aid from Congress to keep police, firefighters, ambulance crews and other frontline workers on the job.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News on Tuesday he was open to providing further aid to cities and states, but that any legislation would need to provide liability protections for businesses that are reopening.
McConnell also told Republican senators on Tuesday that he will not support spending on infrastructure in the next coronavirus relief bill, Axios reported. Trump has called for $2 trillion in infrastructure spending.
(This story fixes paragraph no. for U.S. death toll to paragraph 8)
Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Jonathan Oatis, Richard Chang and Dan Grebler