Pelosi: House ‘not prepared’ to vote remotely on coronavirus relief bill
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday threw cold water on the notion of voting remotely on a sweeping, $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, saying that Congress is simply unprepared to pull it off.
“There are serious constitutional, technological and security concerns about it,” she said in an interview with 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.”
In an interview with CNN moments later she was even more terse, saying it may be an option in the future, but at the moment “we’re not prepared for [it].”
A growing number of lawmakers in both parties have pressed for both chambers to adopt a remote-voting system, amid rising fears of traveling and gathering in close quarters, which public health officials are warning against.
Pelosi said Democratic leaders are eyeing all options as they race to enact the mammoth stimulus package, currently under discussion in the Senate. A report she recently requested from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, listed several of them, including voice voting, proxy voting and staggered voting to prevent crowding on the chamber floor.
Yet all of those options would still require lawmakers to jump on planes and return to Washington. Pelosi suggested that even under a system of remote voting, security concerns would force members back to the nation’s capital to lodge their votes on secure devices.
“What we know is it’s challenging, and if you want to do it you still have to come here and vote to do it,” she told MSNBC.
“It may be that we have no choice but that. But if that is the case, we want to be fully prepared, and none of those systems work unless you practice, practice, practice to make sure it works,” she continued. “You know about technology; it’s a wonderful thing, but it has its glitches.”
Pelosi made the rounds on the cable news shows as Senate leaders raced to break the partisan impasse over a massive package providing economic relief to the industries, small businesses, workers and families hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak.
Senate Republicans have sought to sideline Pelosi from those talks, but she’s been in close communication throughout the process with Senate Minority Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is in ongoing negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
If the Senate package meets the requirements of Pelosi and her caucus, the House could pass the proposal by unanimous consent, allowing it to move to President Trump’s desk without House lawmakers returning to Washington.
That, Pelosi said, is the preferred strategy.
But she left open the possibility that House Democrats may choose to amend the Senate bill, if it falls short of their expectations, or vote on their own $2.5 trillion package, which was unveiled Monday night.
“Right now what we’re trying to do is work on the substance of this legislation so that we can quickly come to an agreement where we can have unanimous consent,” she told CNN.
On Monday, a group of roughly 70 House Democrats wrote to McGovern urging the Rules chairman to alter the House guidelines to allow for remote voting. Their concerns have been heightened after three members of Congress, two in the House and one in the Senate, contracted the virus, and several others have self-quarantined as a precaution.
But McGovern’s report, released late Monday, echoed Pelosi’s message, warning that Congress simply hasn’t adopted the secure technology to ensure it would work effectively.
“While remote voting deserves … thoughtful study, to create a secure, reliable, and user-friendly system while in the midst of a crisis is not realistic,” the report says.
Among the remaining sticking points dogging the Senate negotiations is a provision, pushed by Democrats, to provide billions of dollars in expanded food stamp funding, largely to benefit low-income children who might miss meals due to school closures. Senate Democrats thought they had secured a 15 percent increase in the program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but Pelosi said she was informed Monday night that Republicans had stripped it out.
“I would hope that that’s not the case, because that’s so needed,” she told MSNBC.
It’s unclear if House Democrats would endorse a package that excluded more money for SNAP, a program with a huge backing from liberal members, including those in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
On Tuesday morning, Pelosi called Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over SNAP, to gauge the level of concern, according to a former Democratic leadership staffer with knowledge of the conversation. And Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the Democratic whip, has also been making calls to determine the willingness of lawmakers to return to the Capitol to amend the Senate bill if the SNAP funding isn’t in it, the former staffer said.
“I don’t know if Republicans realize they stepped on a mine,” the former staffer said. “People will go through the f—ing roof.”
Pelosi and Democratic leaders are holding a conference call with their caucus Tuesday afternoon to decide their next steps.
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