By Mark Tapscott
Members of the public will be able to enter the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 3 for the first time since March 2020, when outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi closed the historic structure and its associated office complexes in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“In six days, the new Republican majority will fully reopen and restore the U.S. Capitol to the American people,” House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) posted on Twitter on Wednesday shortly after The Epoch Times inquired about the status of the reopening.
The reopening of the Capitol will coincide with the first day of the 118th Congress, which will include razor-thin majorities chosen by voters in the November midterm elections for both the upper and lower chambers.
The House of Representatives will include 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats, while the Senate will have 51 Democrats (including three Independents who caucus with them) and 49 Republicans.
McCarthy included with the Tweet a copy of his Nov. 10, 2022 letter to the six top legislative officials who oversee the day-to-day administration of the Capitol and its associated buildings, including U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton, Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor, House Clerk Cheryl L. Johnson, Sergeant-at-Arms William J. Walker, and Attending Physician Rear Admiral Brian P. Monahan.
“It has been two years, seven months, and 29 days since the People’s House closed. That means for 973 days, the American People have been restricted from their constitutional right to petition the first branch of government,” McCarthy told the legislative branch officials.
“Nine-hundred and seventy three days without being able to freely visit their Member of Congress at the Capitol Complex. Nine-hundred and seventy three days without being able to access the House gallery and watch their representatives vote on legislation in person. That posture is no longer acceptable,” McCarthy continued.
Noting that voters chose to replace the Democratic House majority that held power in the 117th Congress with the new GOP majority, McCarthy said “as such, beginning on January 3, 2023, the People’s House must again be open to the American public.”
Closing the Capitol Complex was one of multiple actions taken by Pelosi in response to recommendations of the legislative branch officials. During the closure, only members of Congress and selected congressional aides, credentialed journalists, and essential workers were able to access the facilities.
Among the other measures were requirements that all individuals allowed access maintain social distancing, wear masks, and avoid physical contact. Members of the House were allowed to participate in congressional hearings remotely and to vote by proxy in committees and on the House floor.
The social distancing, masks and avoiding contact ended, for the most part, as the Pandemic waned, and members of the public were allowed to visit congressional offices in strictly limited numbers and only after their scheduled meetings being cleared by legislative officials and being escorted at all times by staff members.
The remote hearings and proxy voting procedures continued to the end of the 117th Congress. Republicans are expected to abolish the two procedures when they take over next week.
McCarthy’s letter was written in his capacity as the leading candidate to succeed Pelosi as Speaker of the House. He was nominated by 188 members of the House Republican Conference during a Nov. 15 meeting, but Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) gained the votes of 31 members.
The result prompted a behind-the-scenes scramble that is likely to continue right up to the last minute on McCarthy’s behalf to convert as many of the 31 Biggs backers as possible in order to get a majority of the whole House when it votes on the Speakership Jan. 3.
Most notably, members of the House Freedom Caucus, a gathering of more than 40 of the most conservative representatives, immediately began pressuring McCarthy to accept a number of significant reforms in House rules. McCarthy has accepted several of the proposed reforms and indicated his willingness to be flexible on reaching compromises on some of the others.
Most notable among the latter is the HFC’s proposal to restore a rule that allowed one representative to move that the Speakers’ chair be declared vacant, thus necessitating a new vote. McCarthy reportedly said he was willing to talk about raising the threshold to 20-30 representatives.
Still, a tiny but highly leveraged dissident group of five representatives led by Biggs has vowed to oppose McCarthy regardless of any concessions he might make on House rules. Despite some whispers about a compromise candidate emerging, McCarthy remains favored to become the next Speaker of the House.