“Which event?” he asked.
“They were handing out face masks in the district,” I said.
“I was part of that,” he said.
“But you weren’t there?” I said.
“I was not there, no,” he said.
Daniels suggested to me that other committee chairs stayed in D.C. after the CARES Act passed. But I checked, and Engel is the only committee chair in the New York delegation who has remained in Washington the entire time since that vote. Jerry Nadler, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has been in his district, in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the Oversight Committee, has been in her district, in Manhattan and Queens. Nydia Velazquez, who chairs the Small Business Committee, has been in her Brooklyn district—and after recovering from COVID-19 herself, delivered personal protective equipment to others. Nita Lowey, who represents a district next to Engel’s and chairs the Appropriations Committee, has been in Westchester and Rockland Counties. Other members of the New York delegation who are not chairs have been back home as well, doing their committee work remotely and abiding by social-distancing rules.
Engel has four primary challengers. The one who’s attracted the most national attention, a local middle-school principal named Jamaal Bowman, has been appearing at some events in the district and calling in to others via videoconference, as he and other candidates across the state try to wage campaigns ahead of the June 23 vote.
Several local elected officials in New York privately expressed surprise that Engel has not been in the district.
Read: Deep clean, then clean again
Engel and his staff say that his reasons for staying in Potomac are all work-related. Daniels defended his decision to stay in the Maryland home where he has long spent most of his time—for years, he identified it as his “primary residence” for tax purposes, until the state told him to stop in 2013.
“Being in Washington,” Daniels told me, “also allows him to have access to classified facilities and sign subpoenas, which require his actual signature.” He said that the notices advertising Engel’s participation in events were wrong, and he hadn’t been scheduled to attend.
“There have been a lot of public Teams/Zoom/conference calls in addition to teleconferences with other elected officials, hospital workers, union members, etc. It’s hard to list them all,” Daniels said in an email. He added in a subsequent message, “There are shelter in place orders across the east coast; everyone should be doing what they can to stay indoors. Do you find it problematic that the chairman is not out taking photo-ops during a global pandemic?”
“The work being done on behalf of his constituents is what counts and to that end Mr. Engel has been very effective,” Daniels said, noting that staff members were helping “hundreds of people with [Paycheck Protection Program] applications, stimulus checks, and unemployment benefits.”