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GOP lawmakers eye return to Capitol in protest of pandemic shutdown

“I don’t deny there are risks as members of Congress in going there. But that’s what doing your duty is: There are risks, but you get the job done anyway,” said Mast, a combat veteran who lost both his legs serving in Afghanistan. “If you can’t say Congress is working at the urgency that our people need right now, then we need to return immediately.”

The thinking among this group of Republicans is that if hospital staff, first responders and grocery store employees are working, so should lawmakers — and they worry about the optics if they are away from the Capitol for an extended period of time.

“Members want to come back and make it clear they’re at work,” said one GOP lawmaker involved in the discussions. “Why are we sitting here at home and reading about what’s going on?”

The effort involves rank-and-file Republicans, including both moderates and conservative hard-liners. GOP leadership has also been approached about the idea, according to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who didn’t dismiss it in an interview.

“I already know about it. I talked to somebody yesterday. We were on a call with a group of people who want to be called back,” McCarthy said. “The challenge is, the speaker has some power over the Capitol, on what’s open and what’s not. So I want to make sure it’s safe, whatever we do. But I think House Republicans are ready to come back to work.”

McCarthy also pointed out that if there is a deal on extending small business aid — which he said negotiators are making progress on — many lawmakers would come back anyway.

“I don’t think it will be a problem, because I think people are going to get called back for a vote on this and I think you’ll see a lot of House Republicans come back,” he said.

Leaders in both the House and the Senate decided to delay their return to the Capitol until at least May 4 — a decision made in consultation with health experts in an effort to avoid spreading the coronavirus among lawmakers. Multiple members and aides have already contracted the virus, and D.C. has issued a stay-at-home order until May 15.

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