WASHINGTON – As the House returns this week and Democrats continue to push remote voting, Committee on House Administration Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) discusses how a lack of leadership by House Democrats has put the House behind in being able to bring back staff and visitors.
Read excerpts below or CLICK HERE for Davis’ full interview with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
Testing for Essential Workers
Tom Temin: In the meantime, though, you’re working as the Ranking Member of the Committee on House Administration to get things somewhat back to normal I guess where even those that prefer proxy will feel safe coming in. What are some of the steps you’ve been taking?
Rodney Davis: Well, these aren’t necessarily the steps we’re taking. It’s the steps we’re offering. And unfortunately, the majority, as decided against some of these things. Number one, we ought to be able to follow the lead of Major League Baseball, some larger companies like Boeing, Ford, Tyson Foods – you know, they’re making sure that their essential workers have testing capabilities. We’ve had offers from private companies, we’ve had offers from the Air Force to come in, and not just test members of Congress, because frankly, it’s not just about members of Congress. But we ought to darn well care about the people who are asked to come to this campus every single day during a pandemic, they ought to have access to testing. We ought to have some different modalities in place to identify who’s safe and who’s not, and who should be at work and who shouldn’t. And at that point in time, you’re going to have to have testing to make that happen. So when you look at the House, you know, we’ve had just a small grouping of Architect of the Capital, and contractors in the U.S. Capitol Police that have contracted the virus. But overwhelmingly, it’s been a pretty safe place to work. But as we move ahead, the only way to really get the House open again, as we knew it on March 13, is to begin testing and utilizing some new technologies. But the majority Democrats have decided against that. And frankly, Tom, I don’t think they want us to come back in a sense of normalcy. The leadership likes the partisanship, rather than the bipartisanship that you get when we actually have a chance to talk and work with each other.
Getting Visitors Back to Washington, Face-to-Face with Lawmakers
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Illinois Republican Rodney Davis, he’s ranking member of the Committee on House Administration. And just getting back to the staff for a minute, I guess there’s about 30,000 staff members of Congress if you count House and Senate, in your particular staff. I mean, you’re calling me on this interview from your office in D.C. is your staff with you and what are you doing – if they are, what are you doing just within your own office to make sure everyone stays safe?
Rodney Davis: Yeah, right now, I’m still encouraging telecommuting, teleworking. I’m in my office alone, but at this time of day, usually they’re not coming in till about 9 o’clock anyway. So this is not abnormal to be here at this time alone. But in the end, we want to encourage offices that can telework remain teleworking. As a matter of fact, this is a bipartisan success, that the chairperson of the House admin committee and I, we work together on to make sure that instead of going to vendors to buy laptops and computer equipment, we were able to pre-purchase many of those and stock them in our office supply store just in case on March 13, or later in that month, we were going to be asked to shut the House down and go into telework mode. And the House was ready, offices were ready. And I got to give a lot of the hard working staff a lot of credit for making that happen. But now’s the time to begin coming back and there are going to be limitations. We’re getting recommendations of how many staff can be in any given space at any recommended time. But in the end, we have to be able to get visitors back to Washington. People coming to Washington to see their government at work and also talking to their legislative leaders face to face. And that’s going to take everybody working together to make sure that – probably in the long run, you’ll have some staff teleworking on a maybe every other day basis and others coming in on an as-needed basis. But the days of having constituents walk in, probably unannounced, without facing a plexiglass shield are probably gone for the near future.
Goal Should Be Getting Back to Normal
Tom Temin: Now the House chamber is the size that it is, and I think people that see it for the first time are surprised that it’s not all that big. Could you envision renting, say the ballroom of the Washington Hilton, which can seat 2,000 people at dinner if you really crammed them in. So if you only had 435 standing each at their own music desk, you could maybe meet in the way the Constitution imagined. It just wouldn’t be in the place originally built for it.
Rodney Davis: No, I think there’s a misperception on members of Congress actually being on the floor. We don’t have assigned seats. So there’s no seat for me in that House chamber, we all kind of walk in and, and when we’re there, we use that as a time to really connect with members on issues of importance. So there’s really no need to go rent a space because it’s just like the Senate. I mean, you don’t spend a lot of time as a group there unless you’re casting a vote. And now that we’ve done a rotating process on votes, we can safely distance ourselves. But this goes back to what I said earlier about testing modalities, technology, testing capabilities, testing availabilities, and different technology to track your body temperature and other signs of asymptomatic COVID infections. We’re going to continue to grow in our knowledge. But the goal, the goal should be to get back to normal not continue this. If we have an idea on how to test for it, how to socially distance ourselves to avoid it, how to mitigate that risk, and how to help the staff that are around this complex or Capitol Police officers or Architect of the Capital employees or folks that work in food service – they ought to have some modalities that we can also use for members of Congress to make this place work again.
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