A trio of House Republicans told a special hearing of the House Committee on Administration on Dec. 17 that it’s past time to reopen the U.S. Capitol to the public and to depoliticize the rules-making process that has kept it closed for nearly two years.
“When this virus first came to our shores, through no fault of our own, in the spring of 2020, small businesses, schools, and offices were forced to shut down,” Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) told the Member Day hearing of the administration panel’s subcommittee on elections.
Stauber was referring to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus that’s also known as the novel coronavirus. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) is chairman of the subcommittee.
“Similarly, the United States Capitol Building, the halls of Congress, and our office buildings were also closed to the public and have remained this way for over 21 months,” Stauber said. “Now, through the ingenuity and perseverance of the American people, we have adapted and found ways to reopen, while ensuring we are keeping our families and neighbors safe.
“However, one place that remains closed to the American people is the House of Representatives, the People’s House. This is unacceptable.”
The Minnesota Republican told the committee that “just five blocks away” from the Capitol, Capital One Arena opens nightly to crowds of thousands of fans of the Washington Capitals NHL and the Washington Wizards NBA teams.
“Even more absurd, over on the Senate side, restrictions are much softer and indoor Halloween events were even held,” Stauber said. “Now, there are reports that Senate Offices will be allowed to restart tours of the Capitol, while House offices are not even allowed to welcome larger groups of our constituents up to our offices.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, congressional officials, led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), imposed rigorous social distancing, mask-wearing requirements, and mandatory quarantining by members of the House, their staff, and Capitol operations employees.
The Capitol Visitors Center was closed and members of the public were barred from entering the Capitol or its nearby office buildings without special permission. Access has been limited since then to those with either official or media credentials.
Stauber was joined in calling for the reopening of the Capitol by Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), a medical doctor, who focused on the role of the Office of the Attending Physician (OAP).
“As a doctor, it appalls me to think doctors are put in a position to have to answer to political pressures, rather than set forth guidance based on facts and medical expertise. From my perspective, this has happened time and time again throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and in the safety protocol decision-making process here in the House of Representatives,” Bucshon told the hearing.
“I believe this has offered us an opportunity for this committee to reexamine the role of the Office of the Attending Physician and depoliticize the office, removing it from the partisan overreach of the Office of the Speaker—regardless of which political party happens to be in the majority.”
The Indiana Republican said he believes that the OAP needs to be reorganized in order to insulate it from partisan political interests.
“The Office of Attending Physician was established to be the doctor on campus and attend to basic medical needs, not set protocols to respond to a national pandemic. The office is in need of modernization to reflect the times,” Bucshon said.
“This is why earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 4862, the Office of Attending Physician Independence Act, which would remove the ability for political pressure to put upon the Office of Attending Physician by establishing a bicameral, bipartisan framework, much like that of the Architect of the Capitol that has been in place since 1990, to appoint and oversee the Office of Attending Physician.”
The reformed OAP process would make the appointment effective for a 10-year term, with the possibility of being reappointed thereafter.
Bucshon’s proposal was referred to the administration committee, which has since taken no action on it. The committee chair is Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who also serves on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Lofgren serves on the House Judiciary Committee, and was a manager of the House Impeachment team in 2020 against former President Donald Trump.
Also calling for the reopening of the Capitol was Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), a retired pharmacist.
“As a health care professional, I find the current House rules related to mask-wearing, constituent meetings, and Capitol tours far too restrictive and frankly disrespectful to the millions of Americans we all serve,” he told the hearing.
“Members of Congress are directly elected by the people. And many refer to the House of Representatives as the ‘People’s House.’ But the people, our constituents, are not able to visit our Capitol to witness their democracy work. They are limited to watching hearings and legislative business on a screen—the most impersonal form of participation with their government.
“The House, under the Democrat party’s lead, has shut out the public. Members are prohibited from giving tours, constituents can’t personally visit their Representatives office without going through a ridiculously cumbersome sign-in process, and just forget about letting constituents visit the House Chamber.”
Carter said restrictions were needed at the outset of the pandemic, but “our knowledge has evolved.”
“We know how to mitigate spread and we have vaccines,” he said. “So at what point is limiting constituent involvement in the democratic process no longer about the virus. Well, we hit that point a long time ago.”
Two spokesmen for Pelosi didn’t respond to a request from The Epoch Times for comment by press time.