“The openness of the halls of Congress and public participation in the legislative process have always been hallmarks of American democracy. It is long-past time for the Senate to re-open its doors to the American people…. we need to lead by making a clear statement that it’s time to re-open the Senate to our constituents.”
WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) today spoke on the Senate floor and called for unanimous consent to pass his resolution that recognizes the importance of reopening the Capitol and Senate office buildings to the public and supports returning to the pre-COVID visitor policies for areas within Senate jurisdiction after nearly two years of closure, thereby supporting access to American democracy and a return to normal life. The motion was blocked by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
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Senator Hagerty’s remarks and the debate exchange may be found here. Text of his remarks is below.
Senator Hagerty: Madam President, for nearly two years, the U.S. Capitol Building and Senate offices have been largely closed to the American people whom we serve. Our constituents have been unable to enter the Senate buildings to meet with their representatives. And Americans of all ages—from schoolchildren to seniors—have been deprived of the patriotic sense of wonderment that comes from visiting the hallowed halls of the Capitol Building. The openness of the halls of Congress and public participation in the legislative process have always been hallmarks of American democracy.
It is long-past time for the Senate to re-open its doors to the American people. Thanks to Operation Warp Speed, vaccines have been available for more than a year to those who want them. Americans have learned how to safely gather and enter public places despite the pandemic. Over seventy-thousand people attended the Super Bowl in Los Angeles on Sunday, in fact, yet there are reports that some of the leadership in this building want to significantly limit the number of lawmakers that are allowed to attend President Biden’s State of the Union address in just a couple of weeks. From stores to venues and most workplaces and schools, the rest of the United States has re-opened to gatherings and regular business. Shouldn’t the Senate—whose buildings belong to the public—do the same?
That’s why I’ve introduced a resolution providing that the Senate: first, recognizes the importance of reopening the Capitol and Senate office buildings to the public; and second, supports returning to the pre-COVID visitor policies for areas within Senate jurisdiction. I’m pleased that twenty-six of my colleagues have joined me as co-sponsors of this resolution.
Importantly, if there are operational matters that need to be worked out as part of re-opening, this resolution provides no obstacle to doing so. It simply states that the Senate supports reopening and recognizes the importance of doing so.
I’m asking my colleagues to join me today in support of access to American democracy and a return to normal life—and in opposition to endless pandemic lockdowns.
Klobuchar objected to the motion.
Senator Hagerty: Madam President, I greatly respect my colleague from Minnesota, and I have enjoyed working with her on the Rules Committee. But her objection to this resolution provides an unfortunate—but clear—answer: No, Democrats don’t support re-opening the Senate. Hopefully sometime soon my Democrat colleagues will wake up to the fact that Americans are sick of endless lockdowns and the condescending message that it sends to the American people, that they need government to tell them what to do.
Regarding the objection that we need a more measured process in consultation with various officials, I talked with the Capitol Police Chief last week, and we can work with his team and the Sergeant-at-Arms to address any specific operational issues. We can also work with the Attending Physician. All of that is downstream of the basic question here, which is whether the Senate supports re-opening. If the Senate supports re-opening, then we can figure out the rest.
Senate leadership sets the policy for the Capitol Building and the office buildings that are under Senate jurisdiction. That’s why we have different COVID policies than the House—if it was up to the Attending Physician or Capitol Police, the policy probably wouldn’t change at the midpoint of the Capitol Building as it does today. We are the elected officials in the building. We are the ones that were elected to make decisions. We shouldn’t dodge that responsibility, and we need to lead by making a clear statement that it’s time to re-open the Senate to our constituents. It’s unfortunate that many of my Democrat colleagues don’t feel the same way. We need to re-open the Senate now.
Madam President, I yield the floor.