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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked a proposal by his GOP Kentucky colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, calling for remote voting during the ongoing coronavirus-related congressional recess.
In a speech on the floor of the Senate, Paul said that Congress ought to return to session or pass a measure that would temporarily allow members of both chambers to vote on legislation remotely during emergencies.
“If there exists too much danger to have Congress meet in person, we should allow emergency voting remotely,” Paul, who is an ophthalmologist, said.
I just offered an amendment to allow remote voting if necessary. I strongly believe Congress should at once return into session, if not remote voting should be available during emergencies.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 21, 2020
His measure would allow any senator to try and get a temporary 30-day approval to vote remotely. But the majority leader objected to Paul’s proposal.
“Senator Rand Paul offered an amendment to allow remote voting if necessary. He believes Congress should at once return into session, if not remote voting should be available during emergencies,” said Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul, The Hill reported.
Previously, McConnell, as well as other Republican leaders, have expressed opposition to remote voting, even as the Senate is in the middle of a five-week break due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Before members were dismissed, the Republican leader dismissed a question about granting senators the authority to vote outside the Capitol Building.
“We’ll not be doing that. There are a number of different ways to avoid getting too many people together,” McConnell told reporters at the time.
McConnell has instead adopted recommended social-distancing measures that provide more time for votes while encouraging members not to remain on the Senate floor for extended periods of time. The Hill noted that the recommendations were not being strictly observed as some senators were seen standing close to each other and chatting in small groups.
The Hill added: “Paul’s attempt to implement remote voting comes as Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have offered their own rules change resolution. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, are also working on a deal on remote hearings.”
In the House, Democratic leaders are pushing their own remote voting proposal. It’s likely that a measure will be voted on this week to give members permission to vote by proxy as long as the coronavirus emergency lasts.
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) April 22, 2020
“The House is expected to vote on a rules change related to remote voting by proxy,” said a statement to members from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Though generally opposed to proxy voting, not all Republicans agree it’s a bad idea.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said he opposes the concept because it “puts too much power in one hand.”
But Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who describes himself as “very much an institutionalist and a traditionalist,” believes it’s an option worth exploring, The Hill reported in a separate story.
“I’m going to keep an open mind about it. I’m going to keep talking to my colleagues,” Cole — the top Republican on the House Rules Committee — said.
That doesn’t mean that Cole, who has served in the House since 2003, hasn’t got any reservations.
“By and large — and I think most people agree — legislating has to be pretty much face to face. It doesn’t work very well this way. There’s bad precedent, I think, setting this,” he said, The Hill reported. “If you worry about the ability of Congress to work together, the isolation of individuals away from one another exacerbates almost every problem we have.”
The proxy voting measure being considered by the House would only pertain to coronavirus-related legislation.
Critics worry that it could set a bad precedent, however. They fear that future congresses could use essentially invent ‘emergencies’ to allow for no-debate proxy voting on major issues.
The issue of remote voting isn’t new. In 2013, three House members — Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) — offered up a proposal to allow for the creation of a “secure, remove voting system so members could vote on bills that are being considered under a suspension of the regular rules — bills that are usually non-controversial and require two-thirds’ majority in the House,” BizPac Review reported at the time.
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