Capitol marks two years since closing to the public from COVID-19
Saturday marks two full years since the Capitol closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mask mandates at the Capitol have been relaxed in recent days as the omicron peak of the pandemic has subsided in the Washington, DC area. But Capitol officials are still cautious about allowing tourists back into the building.
Officials have cited both the pandemic and security concerns from last year’s violent insurgency as why there has been a reluctance to reopen the building to the public.
But after the Capitol was closed to visitors for two years, lawmakers are clamoring to let them return.
“It’s time for the US Capitol to reopen to visitors,” DC Del said. Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonOvernight Health Care – Congress allocates COVID-19 funding DC delegates: Capitol Police don’t expect truck convoys to cause security problems Photos of the week: State of the Union, Ukraine vigil and Batman MORE (D) said this week.
“Given the importance of the Capitol to DC’s tourism economy, it’s about time the Capitol reopened to visitors like the rest of DC is already doing,” Norton said.
Two Democratic advisers confirmed to The Hill that bicameral talks are underway for a phased reopening of the Capitol. But such a reopening is likely at least weeks away.
The House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms originally made the decision to suspend Capitol tours two years ago in response to the pandemic.
But since then, the idea of having hundreds of people pour into the building all day has become much more fraught.
A recent debate on the House floor between Majority Leaders Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats are planning a strategy to defy expectations and limit medium-term losses. Ukraine’s siege leaves lawmakers horrified, united – and feeling helpless (D-Md.) and Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Emergent – Russia widens offensive; US, allies to add trade sanctions The memo: GOP at odds with Biden as gas prices rise More than a quarter of Congress had COVID-19 MORE (R-La.) illustrated the tensions that have cast a dark cloud over the Capitol since the Jan. 6, 2021 attack by a former mob President TrumpDonald Trump’s top Hispanic lawmaker urges Biden to accelerate Ukrainian reunification in US Democrats’ strategy to beat expectations and limit medium-term lossessupporters of .
Scalise raised the recent unanimous Senate passage of a resolution authored by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) expressing his support for the reopening of the Capitol and Senate office buildings to the public.
“Senate Republicans and Democrats have agreed on this. I just want to ask that we do the same and show the American people that People’s House is open to the people of the nation,” Scalise said.
“I think we can all agree that American public access to the Capitol should be as comprehensive as possible,” Hoyer replied, adding that the Capitol physician and sergeants-at-arms in both chambers are considering reopening .
Hoyer then said he had “major concerns” about a recent resolution passed by the Republican National Committee on censorship of reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyWyoming Legislature kills crossover ban despite Trump backing Hoyer says Russian gas ban is worth political cost Barr becomes latest former ally to escalate feud with Trump MORE (R-Wyo.) and Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerPutin’s attacks on civilians increase pressure on US, NATO Republicans warn Justice Department investigation into Trump would spark political war, US officials, lawmakers debate no-fly zone over Ukraine MORE (R-Ill.) for participating in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse” by serving as a member of the House Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
“If we tell the people of this country that January 6th was legitimate political discourse, we will have grave concerns about opening this Capitol for the safety of our members, for the safety of the public who wish to visit and for the safety of our employees,” said Hoyer.
“I would ask my friend, does he think January 6th reflected legitimate political discourse?” he asked Scalise.
“I was very clear from the start that whoever broke into this Capitol should be held accountable and will be held accountable,” Scalise said.
“More arrests were made than probably in any city that saw people burn down cities across America over the summer. This is something that should be addressed, and the Democratic Party doesn’t want to talk about it. They just want to talk about January 6,” Scalise said.
Unlike Congress, other crowded facilities in the nation’s capital and around the world have reopened to the public.
Some Smithsonian museums have recently closed due to pandemic-related staff shortages but are scheduled to reopen. Earlier this week, the Smithsonian announced that it was dropping its mask requirement for visitors, in line with recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that masks are no longer required in many parts of the country with reduced COVID-19 transmission.
And the Capitol’s London counterpart, the British Parliament, is open to visitors, albeit with reduced capacity and mask requirements.
While official tours of the Capitol have been suspended for the past two years, members of Congress have still been seen guiding small groups of guests through the building.
The Senate has also allowed some small, staff-led tours in limited areas this side of the Capitol complex in recent months.
But it’s all a far cry from the hundreds of tourists who once flocked each day to the Capitol Rotunda and other historic rooms in the symbolic seat of US democracy. And the viewing galleries of the House and Senate chambers have remained empty of tourists for the past two years, unlike before the pandemic, when the public was able to watch live proceedings.
During Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this month, a handful of guests invited by the White House sat with the first lady in part of the viewing gallery of the House chamber Jill BidenJill BidenThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Emergent – Biden, Congress targets Russian oil Jill Biden issues message in support of Ukrainian women and Russian protesters The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Emergent – US considers oil ban on Russia. Will Europe follow? MORE. But the galleries were otherwise manned only by congressmen, separated as a pandemic precaution, and the Capitol press corps.
After Biden’s speech, Republicans cited his statement that “COVID-19 no longer needs to control our lives” as they introduced a resolution calling for the home wing of the Capitol complex to be fully reopened to the public.
“We take pride in this as government by the people, by the people and for the people. But to truly serve the people, we must open this institution to the public,” senior GOP leaders in the House of Representatives and Republicans on the House Administration Committee said in a joint statement.