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Senate Repairs, Upgrades Displace Lawmakers

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By Emma Dumain
Roll Call Staff

The monthlong August recess is usually a good time for major construction and renovation projects in the Capitol, with lawmakers in their districts and staffers out of town.

Intentions to minimize disruption by using the Senate’s absence to close off access to the chamber floor for maintenance, however, have been foiled: The Senate will be meeting in pro forma sessions every three days during the next five weeks, thanks to the House’s vote against adjourning.

But work that will shut down all access to the Senate chamber, lobby and galleries until Sept. 10 will continue as planned, according to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms office, to allow for telecommunications upgrades, floor repairs and installation of new carpeting.

All this, of course, leaves Senators without a home to conduct their business, albeit in brief sessions that sometimes last no longer than 30 seconds and never involve legislative activity.

Starting Tuesday, they’ll be dispatched to Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building, a central hearing room chosen for its accessibility: It is equipped for C-SPAN cameras and for hosting spectators.

It’s actually a bit of a historical anomaly, according to Senate Historian Don Ritchie.

Except for occasional debates on classified information that are held in the Old Senate Chamber, the last time Senators met off the floor was last August, when an earthquake prompted the evacuation of the Capitol and the interruption of a pro forma session. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) presided in a room in the Postal Square Building next to Union Station

Before that, Ritchie said, the last time the Senate was displaced was in 1814, when the British burned down part of the Capitol during the War of 1812.

In preparation for the recess renovations, a senior Democratic aide said that, just like the last day of school, Senators were told to “clean out their desks” before wrapping up Thursday evening.

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