House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), based upon guidance received from attending Capitol physician Brian Monahan, announced that House lawmakers will not return to Washington next week. “We had no choice,” Pelosi told reporters Tuesday. “If the Capitol physician recommends that we not come back, then we have to take that guidance.”
But McConnell’s office wouldn’t say whether he even bothered to consult with Monahan. What matters most to the majority leader is getting Senate Republicans back in town so he can ram through more of President Trump’s judicial nominees, including 37-year-old Justin Walker.
A Kentucky native and McConnell protege, Walker was confirmed for a federal judgeship in western Kentucky in a party-line vote only last October, despite having been judged “not qualified” by the American Bar Association, which cited his insufficient legal experience. Undeterred, Trump then nominated Walker to the second-most powerful court in the land, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. McConnell’s mission is to make it happen.
Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “To take [Walker] who’s been on Kentucky district court for a matter of weeks and promote him to the second highest court in the land is an outrage. It is as bad as it gets in terms of packing the court with political toadies.”
None of that matters to McConnell, who has now made clear that covid-19 concerns are secondary to his top priority, which is judicial nominees. “Of course, we will go back to judges,” he told radio host and Post contributing columnist Hugh Hewitt in late March. “My motto for the rest of the year is leave no vacancy behind.”
McConnell’s devil-may-care approach to the safety and well-being of people on Capitol Hill and in the Washington region is dangerous.
How could he be so cavalier with people’s lives? That question also extends to the Trump administration’s treatment of federal employees in the capital area. The Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management recently called for agency heads to plan for ways to return government workers to their office buildings and workstations.
The instructions prompted Maryland, D.C. and Virginia leaders to implore the Trump administration not to force the region’s 360,000 federal workers from their homes, where many are now teleworking, without ensuring that returning can be done safely. Washington-region leaders are grappling with this pandemic under the same public health conditions that confront the federal government. A rise in covid-19 cases in the federal workforce could, they fear, cost lives and only delay the reopening of the entire region.
It’s not as though members of Congress or the federal workforce are immune from covid-19. A bipartisan group of legislators in both chambers has tested positive for the virus. The Post reports that there was a recent coronavirus outbreak among construction workers renovating the Cannon House Office Building.
The virus certainly hasn’t lost sight of the federal workforce. Among the 1 million confirmed covid-19 cases in the United States in April, more than 10,000 were federal employees.
Yet, that appears to be the least of McConnell’s and the administration’s concerns.
They seem hellbent on bringing back the Senate and the federal workforce to a contagious environment where covid-19 is still wreaking havoc. As of Friday, there were more than 45,000 known coronavirus cases and more than 2,000 fatalities in the Washington region. The numbers continue to climb.
As with McConnell, the Trump administration is working at cross purposes with regional leaders.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) wrote in a letter to the Office of Personnel Management that it is “a hard balancing act between ensuring the continuation of critical government functions and ensuring the safety and well-being of employees.” They pleaded with the feds to coordinate their plans with regional leaders to “help ensure the safety of the federal workforce and our residents as we work together to fight this pandemic.”
Their plea might be falling on deaf ears at the White House. And McConnell is placing his political interests above all else.
As for the health and safety of the national capital region, lots of luck.
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