WASHINGTON -- A key report from House Democrats has all but ruled out the idea of voting remotely during the coronavirus outbreak, but there is growing support for the idea in the Senate, where one member has tested positive for COVID-19.
A report released late Monday by Democrats on the House Rules Committee found that voting remotely would raise legal questions over whether that constituted a House "meeting," as specified in the Constitution, and would risk a court challenge to any legislation approved during such a process.
But 17 senators from both parties support voting remotely, including progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and conservative Sens. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Congress developed contingency plans to conduct its work in a different location after the 9/11 attacks, but lawmakers have never considered how to keep the legislative branch functioning when its members are spread across the country.
The House is currently in recess and it's unclear when lawmakers will return to Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is hoping to pass the proposed $2 trillion economic stimulus plan by unanimous consent, without having to bring members back for a vote.
"There are serious constitutional, technological and security concerns about" remote voting, Pelosi said on MSNBC. "They can be addressed, but for right now, we're just working very hard to get unanimous consent so we can get this bill done, and then consider what the options are later."
The downside of that procedure is that any single lawmaker can block the measure -- as long as he or she is standing in the House chamber when they do so.
Senators are also eager to return to their states, particularly after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tested positive for COVID-19.
The question will only grow more pressing in coming weeks if Congress is needed to approve further stimulus bills and restrictions or reductions on domestic air travel make flying to Washington difficult.
But leaders in both chambers have shown opposition to changing the long-standing rules of Congress that require lawmakers to be present to cast votes. The Senate has been particularly averse. Its rules don't even allow senators to have cellphones and laptops on the floor.