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New York lawmakers aren't social distancing on Capitol Hill


New York lawmakers roamed Capitol Hill on Friday, whispering with colleagues and grasping shared microphones during debate on a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill — despite CDC guidance that people recently in stricken areas of the state self-quarantine for 14 days.
Fear of turning the House chamber into a petri dish of contagion inspired House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), backed by President Trump, to push for a speedy voice vote without the necessary 50 percent attendance. But Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) confirmed Friday he would force a roll call vote, meaning New Yorkers from virus-plagued areas ultimately may ensure the bill passes quickly.
The lawmakers, most if not all recently returning to Washington from their home districts, took varied steps to prevent viral spread after at least two House members already came down with the deadly bug.
Rep. Tom Souzzi, a Democrat who reps Queens and Long Island, used a sleeve to bop a shared microphone toward his face, in an obvious effort to avoid placing his hands on the mic.
Souzzi then itched his nose with a finger and left the podium without wiping it down with one of the disinfecting wipes provided for lawmakers. The next speaker, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), vigorously wiped the podium twice before taking his turn to speak.
Staten Island Rep. Max Rose, also a Democrat, spoke of the dire need of New Yorkers. “Days from now or weeks from now, New Yorkers will need thousands of more ventilators,” Rose exclaimed.
Rose also did not wipe down the podium and touched the cardboard of a shared tissue box before leaving the speaking area.

The House of Representatives chamber
The House of Representatives chamberAP

Democratic superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lounged in the chamber even after she completed her speech, leaning over a leather armchair to chat with a colleague, as other lawmakers darted concerned looks as their peers coughed and sneezed in the chamber.
Brooklyn Democratic Rep. Nydia Velazquez put an open palm on the microphone foam at the speaker’s podium to move it closer to her face before touching the lectern that held her notes.
After Velazquez spoke, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia finished his talk by cleaning the mic foam with a wipe.
Although not spotted in the House chamber, at least one Republican New Yorker, Rep. Peter King of Long Island, tweeted that he was traveling to Washington.
“Heading to Washington to vote on pandemic legislation,” King wrote. “Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House. Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed. Disgraceful. Irresponsible.”
In a statement to The Post, King wrote: “Have been following [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo’s lockdown since March 20 and staying at home since March 18.” His chief of staff Kevin Fogarty told The Post that King would only enter the House if a roll call vote was needed. He is “taking lockdown seriously,” Fogarty said.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, a top-ranking Democrat as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, tweeted a photo of himself in his office and spoke on the House floor.
Though it’s possible some of the New Yorkers weren’t in affected areas of the state in the past two weeks, none said so in response to requests for comment from The Post.
Because New York is hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis with about half of the more than 85,000 US cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges that “residents who were recently in the affected areas of New York, out of an abundance of caution, should self-quarantine for 14 days.”
Jeffries spokesman Michael Hardaway did not say if he self-quarantined after leaving New York, but said that the congressman is taking steps to reduce risk of spreading the virus.
“He’s following CDC guidelines to that end,” Hardaway said.
“Lives are at risk. Mr. Jeffries traveled to Capitol Hill to ensure that the coronavirus relief package passes and critical aid is delivered to the American people,” his spokesman said.
In a statement to The Post, a Velazquez spokesperson said: “As Chair of the Small Business Committee, the Congresswoman will be present for debate on the small business portions of the bill. She will be social distancing as much as possible during her time in Washington, minimizing contact with staff and other Members and taking precautions recommended by the Capitol’s Office of Attending Physician.”
Two lawmakers — Utah Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams and Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart — tested positive for the virus last week, heightening concern that lawmakers may spread COVID-19 among themselves.


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