Trump Endorsement, Paul Self-Quarantine Revive Serious Look at Remote Voting in Congress

March 23, 2020 Updated: March 24, 2020
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WASHINGTON—Prospects for Congress establishing some form of emergency remote-voting process were boosted March 22 when President Donald Trump endorsed the idea and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) began self-quarantining after testing positive for the CCP virus.

“I would certainly be in favor of it, where they could remote-vote from some outside location,” Trump told the nation during his CCP virus daily news conference at the White House.

Trump said he was thinking about the remote-voting possibility after Paul and another congressional Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, confirmed they had tested positive for the disease and had opted to self-quarantine. Rep. Ben McAdam (D-Utah) also has tested positive.

Four other Republican senators are also self-quarantining, including Mike Lee and Mitt Romney of Utah, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Rick Scott of Florida. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas previously self-quarantined for two weeks.

The CCP virus has hit the House of Representatives hard as well, with eight Republicans and 17 Democrats self-quarantining, at latest count. Sixty-seven House Democrats wrote to House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) asking him to change House rules to allow for a remote-voting process to be used temporarily.

The absent Republican senators have made Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) job much harder as he oversees the tense negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and congressional Democrats on the $2 trillion economic stimulus package.

With only 48 of the Senate’s 53 Republican members available to vote, McConnell holds a razor-thin, one-vote edge against Democrats.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced a remote-voting resolution on March 19.

Under the resolution, the Senate’s majority and minority leaders would have to agree to allow remote-voting for 30 days. The full Senate would have to approve continuing the process.

“We live in an age where national emergencies, public health crises, and terrorism can threaten the ordinary course of Senate business,” Durbin said in a statement announcing the proposal. “We need to bring voting in the Senate into the 21st century so that our important work can continue even under extraordinary circumstances.”

As news spread March 22 about Paul, Portman told the Senate that the remote-voting resolution “is a bipartisan effort to ensure that we can be able to do our duty, as the legislative branch, Article I, we have responsibilities here. This is our duty station. And yet, if we cannot be here, we still need to be able to do it remotely. With the technology we now have, we have the ability to do that, as my colleague from Illinois has said, in a safe and secure way.”

Portman added that “my hope is that we can have this as a possibility, should we not be able to gather. I think what has happened in the last several hours as we’ve learned about our colleagues who are self-quarantining, one who tested positive, as I understand it, it’s very important that we have that ability.”

Also on March 22, two veteran advocates of remote voting took to the pages of The Washington Post to encourage adoption of the process and to remind readers that a similar public discussion was held in the months after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

“There are no provisions, constitutionally, legally or within congressional rules, to enable Congress to meet remotely,” wrote Norman Orenstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution. Both are senior fellows at their respective foundations.

“This is true even though these challenges are not new; we faced them in the aftermath of 9/11 and with the subsequent anthrax threat that could have left a majority of members of the House and Senate incapacitated. Yet, Congress failed to seriously address these vulnerabilities,” they said.

Remote voting could be especially relevant with the CCP virus, because it spreads through close personal contacts and mainly threatens older people, especially those with weakened immune systems or underlying conditions such as heart or lung disease.

“Given that these are people who are disproportionately older, who reflexively shake hands, and who work in close proximity to one another, a coming crisis of government is not implausible. But don’t say they weren’t warned,” they continued.

Nothing changed after 9/11, despite their efforts.

“Every year for the past 19, we have tried to raise these issues again, and neither party’s leadership has been interested,” they wrote.

The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, as the CCP virus because the Chinese Communist Party’s coverup and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc.