Details Announced for First Session of 117th Congress

December 30, 2020 by Dan McCue
U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The 117th Congress will convene at noon on Sunday for an opening session unlike any other thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Following a Quorum Call, the House will begin the election of Speaker of the House, with members voting in alphabetical groups.

After the election of the speaker, the Oath of Office will be administered with members being sworn in by groups, beginning with the first-term members-elect.

Further information regarding general guidance, group assignments, and safety procedures of Opening Session, as provided by the House Sergeant at Arms and House Attending Physician, can be found here

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has advised members that the business of the day may very well extend into the evening.

Beyond that, the members are being asked to adhere to newly released opening session guidelines created by the House Attending Physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, in consultation with House leadership.

Monahan continues to recommend tele-working for all Congressional offices. In all cases, members and staff must maintain six-foot social distance spacing as much as practicable when in offices or at the Capitol.

Members are also strongly encouraged to refrain from gatherings of any kind in their office spaces, whether located in the Capitol or the House Office Buildings.

In a joint memo, Monahan and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving are also advising members to check the local government operating conditions in the District of Columbia and specifically any revisions to the Mayor’s Travel Order after December 31, 2020 (when the current order expires).

Travelers should anticipate an extension or additional restrictions may be imposed regarding travel and local services depending on coronavirus disease conditions.

“Travel to Washington, D.C. may involve some limitations involving availability of restaurants, lodging, and other commercial meal sources and other amenities often necessary for traveling,” Monahan and Irving said.

“Spouses or children accompanying the member may be required to show a copy of their negative pre-travel COVID test at businesses extending lodging or other services,” they added.

As for events at the Capitol itself, Monahan and Irving have advised House leaders that members should also be advised that any available guest seating in the House Gallery for the Opening Session be kept at an absolute minimum.

“To this end, only freshman, first-term members-elect will be issued one ticket for a guest to the House Gallery for the Opening Session,” they wrote. “Returning members of Congress will not be issued a guest ticket for gallery seating.

“Should a first-term member-elect choose to invite a guest, all applicable travel guidelines to Washington, D.C., must be followed,” Monahan and Irving continued. “These include having your guest obtain a COVID test prior to traveling to Washington, D.C., and the need for them to quarantine for the days between their pre-travel COVID test and their day 3-to-5 COVID test here in Washington, D.C.”

They note that the required day 3-to-5 COVID test to exit quarantine for spouses and children cannot be provided at the Capitol and those accompanying individuals will need to seek a local commercial COVID test.

“If their COVID test is positive, they should not travel to Washington, D.C.,” the memo says.

Even if a first-term member gets a ticket for their guest, the guest can only stay in the House Gallery for that member’s swearing in.

Member Ticket Pickup

Gallery tickets for first-term members must be picked up from the Rayburn Tunnel Appointments Desk on Wednesday, Dec. 30 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, from 9:00 a.m. until the event begins at Noon.

The Rayburn Appointment Desk is located adjacent to the Rayburn Subway on the G3 level.

Additional questions regarding tickets, ticket pickup, or seating in the Gallery, can be directed to Sergeant at Arms Chamber Operations at 225-0067.

Member Pins/Plates/Voting Cards

The Office of the Clerk and the Office of the Sergeant at Arms will issue member voting cards, member/spouse pins and plates, as well as other important information on Jan. 3 from 9 a.m. until 12:00 Noon in Statuary Hall.

Statuary Hall will be used so that distribution may be done with social distancing.

Chamber Access for Members

During the Opening Session, access to the Floor of the House will be limited to those members who are scheduled to speak during debate.

Members who wish to speak during debate should contact their respective leadership office.

Unless participating in debate, members should remain in their offices. Members will be notified with sufficient time to travel safely to the Chamber to participate in the Quorum Call or to vote.

Members are strongly encouraged to cleanse their hands with waterless hand sanitizer before entering and departing the House Chamber, and face covers and gloves will be available, should members need them.

Members are requested to follow all health safety procedures while on the Floor.

Quorum Call, Voting and Swearing-In Procedures

Throughout the Opening Session, members will be called to the floor in groups. For the health and safety of members and staff, it is essential that members vacate the floor and Speaker’s Lobby while waiting to vote and/or after their vote has been cast.

This minimizes the risk posed by placing too many members on the House Floor at the same time.

During quorum calls, vote series and/or the swearing in, the Office of the House Physician will monitor the number of members on the floor both to maintain safe social distancing and to ensure voting is done as expeditiously as possible.

Monahan and Irving are requesting that members promptly vacate the Chamber via the Speaker’s Lobby after voting.

Capitol and House Office Building Access

Members and staff are reminded of current policies in place regarding access to the Capitol and House Office Buildings.

Offices who are expecting official business visitors are required to greet guests outside an entrance and be prepared to escort them to and from any meeting.

In addition, the Capitol remains open only to members, staff and official business visitors. Offices  expecting official business visitors to the Capitol are required to greet guests outside the South Door of the Capitol and to escort them to and from each meeting.

Group Gatherings

Members are strongly discouraged from hosting any group gatherings or events such as office receptions, welcome receptions, and/or holiday celebration in their office spaces – either in the Capitol or in the House Office Buildings. 

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