Can Congress vote from home during a pandemic? A leader in the US Senate weighs in

KELOLAND.com Original

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KELO) — While Americans are being asked to work at home across the country, what about our members of Congress?

“There is no provision for remote voting. There hasn’t been in the Senate and the House either for that matter, but I think everybody’s trying to figure out how to stay connected,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said. “(First) remotely and then ultimately, if necessary, to come back for votes to do it in a way that doesn’t expose people to the potential of risk and harm.”

It’s one of the reasons Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate, wants to get a nearly $2 trillion aid package passed quickly because one member of the U.S. Senate has already tested positive for COVID-19.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., right, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, have lunch at a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 20, 2020. Paul tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“We’ve got to have continuity of government,” Thune said. “We’ve got to be able to respond to a crisis. And so what we will do if we can get this current bill behind us, is we will break, temporarily. We’ll be in session, pro forma session.”

Several Senators will stay in Washington D.C. is something urgent is needed.

“But obviously back, subject to the call of the leader,” the number two Republican Senator said.

It’s a similar action taken by the U.S. House during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, according to the office of the historian.

66 of the 100 Senators are 60 or older, which means they’re at a higher risk of serious complications if they contract COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

59-year-old Thune said he talked with his doctor in South Dakota after Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) test came back positive, but believes he didn’t have any contact which would put him at risk.

The Senate has taken several steps to avoid the spread, Thune said.

“Normally we have 15-minute roll call votes in the Senate,” he said. “We’ve extended it to 30.”

That way lawmakers go into the chamber, vote and leave.

He also said they got rid of caucus meetings, and when they do have to talk, it’s either at a distance, over the phone or electronically.

“There may be ongoing needs with respect to this particular crisis that would require Congress to respond, and we need to make sure that we’re available to do that,” Thune said. “So those are discussions that we’re having, but, as of right now, we’re trying to do everything we can to keep people apart, so that we don’t have any, further, members who are infected with the virus.”

The House of Representatives looked at remote voting, but it’s off the table for now, according to a report from Rep. Jame McGovern (D-Mass.). He found logistically and technically it would be a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic and there would be many security concerns.

“This is a moment of national emergency,” McGovern said. “It is imperative that we act swiftly in the weeks and months ahead in a way that preserves the integrity of the institution so that we can continue to respond not just to this crisis, but future emergencies as well.”

 Last week, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), called for remote voting.

“I strongly support remote voting in this particular crisis and not as routine, not if you get a cold or a knee surgery or have to go to a funeral, you should be able to remotely vote,” he said. “But in this particular instance, especially when the American people, people of the world are looking quickly to our government, for solutions for progress for hope, we need to be able to act.”

Two members of the House have also tested positive for COVID-19. Several members of both chambers are in self-quarantine. The House is in a pro forma session, the Senate is still in session.


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