The Bay State’s congressional delegation remains unclear about exactly how they’ll return to work during the coronavirus crisis, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissing calls to greenlight remote voting and no logistical plan on how to assemble 435 House members safely.
U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Lowell, is one of 60 representatives who wrote a letter backing a remote voting procedure that would keep older members of Congress safe while allowing the oversight body to continue their work.
“It’s a bit surprising that even after 9/11 these temporary procedures aren’t already in place,” said Trahan. “We don’t know how long we’re going to need to isolate, and 40% of the members are over the age of 60.”
There is currently no way for members to vote without being in the Capitol, and any changes to allow remote voting or even proxy voting would require a rules change that would likely force a vote. Pelosi pointed to cybersecurity as a major concern when dismissing remote voting Thursday.
“We’re not there yet, and we’re not going to be there no matter how many letters somebody sends in — with all the respect in the world for that,” the San Francisco Democrat told reporters in a call.
But Pelosi and House Rules Committee Chairman U.S. Rep James McGovern, D-Worcester — who investigated remote voting — have failed to come up with an alternative. Proxy voting, where one member is allowed to vote for another, appears to be the most popular alternative.
“We have to get appropriations bills done, we have to fund the government, we have to pass pieces of legislation — and it’s unrealistic to expect we’re all going to agree on everything,” said McGovern. “We’re going to figure out how we’re going to get this done.”
Congress has been able to pass several massive recovery packages by either a voice vote or a quorum, which requires a majority of members to be present for the vote. Those procedures, however, can be foiled if even one person objects to the legislation.
Members are expected to return to Washington D.C. on April 20, although Pelosi could extend the current recess. U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch said he is ready to jump on a plane and get back to work even without a formal plan in place.
“There are ways to sort of cobble together a process here,” said Lynch. “But if this goes on for a long period of time we’re going to need a comprehensive re-engineering of how we conduct business.”
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