House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that the House will move to a digital system to submit Floor documents in order to prevent representatives and staff from catching the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
In a letter sent to her House colleagues on Monday, the senior Democrat said leaders are looking to take the necessary precautions so lawmakers can continue to serve the public.
“During this time of crisis, House leadership and institutional staff continue to examine all possible steps to protect the health and safety of members and our staffs, so that we are best able to serve our constituents,” said Pelosi.
“In that spirit, in consultation with the Rules Committee, Committee on House Administration, Office of the Clerk, and Office of the Parliamentarian and in accordance with current social distancing guidelines, the House will soon take additional action to reduce the physical presence of members and staff in the Capitol, by formalizing a new system for submission of documents related to Floor action,” she continued.
The new system will be implemented Tuesday, and staff will submit all floor documents electronically, including bills, resolutions, co-sponsors, and extensions of remarks.
“This upcoming week’s pro forma (brief) sessions will be held Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. ET and Friday at 9 a.m. ET. Pro forma sessions for the remainder of the month are expected to follow a similar schedule,” Pelosi wrote. “Later today, the Clerk’s Office will send out detailed guidance on where and how to submit materials.”
The new rule is expected to remain in effect through April 19, but Pelosi suggested that it could be extended “if continued disruption of House operations remains necessary due to the pandemic.”
“Normal practice for Floor submissions will resume once the House returns full-time to the Capitol for regular business,” she wrote.
The House is on recess after passing a third CCP virus relief package, but top Democrats are eyeing a phase 4 bill.
Besides shifting to electronic documents during House business, many lawmakers have previously suggested House and Senate votes happen remotely.
In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) March 23 called on the Senate to support his bipartisan resolution with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), “to amend the Standing Rules of the Senate to allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis.” At that time five lawmakers had tested positive for the CCP virus.
“What Sen. Portman of Ohio on the Republican side and what I have introduced with him on the Democratic side is an effort to establish a verifiable technology and procedure so that members can vote—once the decision is made that we’re in a time of emergency—and not be physically present on the floor of the Senate,” Durbin said.
“It’s time for us to have this conversation about how to protect members and their families, staff and their families, in the way that we vote on the floor of the Senate when we’re facing a public health crisis such as the one that we have at this moment.”
As of April, six members of Congress were known to have tested positive for the CCP virus, one senator and five members of the House of Representatives: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Rep. Joe Cunningham, (D-S.C.), Rep. Mike Kelly (D-Pa.), Rep. Nydia Valazquez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).
Pelosi appointed House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) to research the legal issues around voting remotely. In his report McGovern offered the option of voting by proxy, something that would require a change in the House’s rules and a vote of approval.
“We would have to change our rules to do that. If one person objected, we would be forced to have a vote and everyone would have to come back and cast a vote,” he said.
“Some people are suggesting remote voting, others are suggesting maybe proxy voting. To do that we have to address, we have some constitutional challenges, logistical challenges and security challenges. Even though some of these things sound simple and a matter of fact, in real life it’s pretty complicated.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejected any possibility of distance voting but did emphasize reducing numbers of legislators that gather at one time during sessions.
“We’ll not be doing that. There are a number of different ways to avoid getting too many people together,” McConnell told members of the press. “We can deal with the social distancing issue without fundamentally changing Senate rules.”
Pelosi said that establishing an efficient system for remote voting during a crisis is not realistic.