The US Capitol will reopen to the public this month after more than two years of COVID-19 restrictions if a pending plan is adopted in response to bipartisan pressure.
The first phase of reopening will start March 28 if the plan is adopted, Fox News reported Monday.
Congressional offices would be allowed to give 15-person tours of the Capitol and there would be four tours per hour for school groups of up to 50 people, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Fox News reporter Chad Pergram reported.
Lawmakers from both parties rallied for the pandemic restrictions to end as coronavirus cases subside and authorities ditch mask mandates.
No. 3 House Republican Elise Stefanik (R-NY) slammed the prolonged closure in a March 3 statement.
“It has been 719 days since [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi closed the People’s House to the public. This far exceeds the amount of time of any prior closure over the course of the Capitol’s more than 200-year history,” Stefanik said, adding, “Speaker Pelosi – reopen the People’s House today.”
Many Democrats also called for restrictions to end.
“I’d like to see the Capitol open safely to tourists again,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) said recently. “A lot of my constituents are asking about visiting, and I think they should be able to visit again.”
“It is time that the U.S. Capitol open once again to visitors,” Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s non-voting House delegate, said last week. “Given the importance of the Capitol to D.C.’s tourist economy, it is time for the Capitol, like the rest of D.C. is already doing, to reopen to visitors.”
The first phase of reopening would be far short of ordinary pre-pandemic operations.
Before the pandemic, the Capitol’s cavernous Rotunda generally was so packed with groups of visitors that a humid indoor climate prevailed and people who worked in the building had to wade through congested hallways.
Congress swiftly approved a $2.1 billion package to boost security after last year’s Capitol riot, but Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger in January said that “we’ve got a ways to go before we can reopen the campus.”
“The staffing is the biggest issue,” Manger said. “We are around 440-50 officers below where we need to be to be able to do the workload that we have responsibility for.”