McCarthy, Republicans Outline Strategy for Reopening US House

May 4, 2020 Updated: May 4, 2020

U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) shared a plan on May 4 outlining steps that could be used to reopen the lower chamber of Congress during the CCP virus pandemic.

McCarthy, along with Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee, and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), ranking GOP member on the House Rules Committee, laid out four key points of the plan

“There is a pathway forward that enables the House to safely and fully perform its key functions for the American people without sacrificing bedrock norms,” Cole wrote on Twitter.

The Republican lawmakers say they want to ensure “greater transparency and regular order for all members.” They highlighted the three main points of agreement with their Democratic colleagues, and that informed the reopening plan.

The members of a bipartisan task force agreed that the work of Congress is “essential,” that the physical meeting of members should be safeguarded, and that any changes made to how the House functions should be bipartisan.

The House will need to “modify existing practices and structures,” and that, “moving forward, we should expand these protocols to reduce density and congestion in every facet of our work,” the plan’s authors said.

The Republicans suggest creating temporary barriers where physical distancing can’t be achieved, such as plexiglass dividers. They also said that vigorous virus mitigation procedures should be enhanced to include things such as temperature checks at office entry points.

The plan, which takes into account top medical guidelines and advice from “parliamentary experts,” calls for committee work to be phased in. Committees should submit an outline to the majority leader detailing meeting schedules and estimated attendance levels.

The committee data could be used to create a staggered calendar, with alternating use of larger committee hearing rooms when necessary. Priority, the lawmakers say, should be given to bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 response legislation.

The plan calls for consolidated voting schedules, “with postponement authority providing a structure to queue up bills at the end of a week or work period.”

Republicans also want to implement a “crawl, walk, run” strategy for using technology to legislate.

A proposal from House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), that would allow virtual committee hearings and remote floor voting, concerns them for a variety of reasons.

“Before we rush to discard over 200 years of precedent, we should require that rigorous testing standards be met, ample feedback be provided, and bipartisan rules of the road be agreed upon and made public to truly safeguard minority rights,” they said.

McGovern wrote on Twitter on April 30, “The American people count on their elected officials to act, especially in times of crisis. We can’t let an emergency stop us in our tracks. It’s time for Congress to finally embrace tech so we can safely continue legislating during an emergency.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a May 1 statement, “Any plans for reopening the House for in-person business must focus on protecting the health of workers, staff, press, and Members.”

A spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office wasn’t immediately available for comment on the GOP plan. The plan to reconvene the House on May 4 was scrapped after the House medical doctors advised Democrats against reopening.

The Senate returned to work on May 4.