The House of Democracy falls silent
WASHINGTON -- I went to the House to hear the noise of democracy. It might be my last chance. Amid the pandemic, members met for a day and rewrote the rules of American politics, perhaps for good.
Within the Capitol walls, the marble halls were hushed. The plush Speaker's Lobby, where we do press interviews under chandeliers, was dark. That place, often teeming with life, stories and free speech, is a lost paradise for now.
What a change was coming round the corner. That day, the House of Representatives voted to make remote voting part of the government's "new normal."
"Acting at long last to move into the 21st century," Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat, told me. "We're in an altered reality." His father and uncle served in the House and Senate for decades.
In 2020, he added, the cozy spaces of the Capitol make staying apart difficult.
Democrats and Republicans clashed on the historic rule change. In debate, Republicans argued that actual "assembly" is part of a lawmaker's job.
"Congress meeting together" is essential, even in a public health crisis, Arkansas Republican Bruce Westerman said in an interview. Besides voting, he said, members need to be present for hearings and dialogue across the aisle.
That was the way of the world, ever since Congress first met in Philadelphia 230 years ago. Until last Friday, May 15. And I must admit, it's sad to see a great body politic shed its heartbeat: voting in the chamber.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., an old-school politician, vigorously resisted virtual voting. For some, it's something sacred, members gathering in person to vote.
But the pressure on Pelosi from her Democratic caucus alarmed at COVID-19 contagion was too great. She gave way. It's her house, but it was not a happy day for her.