House conservatives voice concerns over minority rights during remote hearings

Top conservatives in the House are raising concerns that minority Republicans are going to be marginalized under rules for remote hearings and proxy voting amid the coronavirus pandemic that recently passed along party lines.

A group led by Rep. Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceGOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor Cain given tributes after death from COVID-19 GOP's Gohmert introduces resolution that would ban the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.) and signed by 39 GOP lawmakers argued in a letter to leaders from both parties that changes made in the Democrat-led legislation passed on Friday fail to ensure Republicans will be able to have a say in calling in witnesses or be provided with critical materials ahead of hearings and briefings.

“One particularly concerning proposal is the change to the committee process within Sec. 4 of H. Res. 965. As you are aware, many House committees have continued good, bipartisan work over the last several months even while normal business has been suspended due to the coronavirus,” they wrote in the letter to House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire MORE (D-Md.), Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyJudge throws out House GOP lawsuit over proxy voting Republicans fear disaster in November Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker MORE (R-Calif.), Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rules Committee ranking member Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHouse approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 Multiple lawmakers self-quarantine after exposure to Gohmert House panel advances health bill with B in emergency COVID-19 funds MORE (R-Okla.).

ADVERTISEMENT

"Committee members have regularly participated in telephone and video briefings with Executive Branch agency officials working diligently on the front lines of this crisis," the GOP lawmakers added.

“However, it has come to our attention that some committees have begun to ostensibly use this briefing process as an indirect method to carry out hearings absent the normal protocols and rules. Briefings have featured opening statements, witness testimony, and Member questions, essentially functioning as official committee hearings in all but name. Most concerningly, the minority has often been shut out of the witness selection process altogether and has not been provided written copies of witness testimony in advance of these meetings.”

The Republican lawmakers said they feel it is critical that the pandemic not be politicized or used as an opportunity to undermine the minority party’s role in committee work.

“With the revelation that H. Res. 965 will further alter the traditional committee process, it is vital that the rights of the minority are preserved. As many committees continue to shift toward operating on a remote basis, both the letter and spirit of committee rules and procedures must be followed as closely as possible. Committee chairpersons should not use these unique circumstances to bypass minority member rights by holding briefings’ to circumvent the normal process,” they wrote.

“During your important continued work on this task force, we ask for you to fully institute committee rules, process, and procedures that fully respect the long-standing rights of the minority.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Republicans have been highly vocal in their calls for Congress to be called back into session, arguing lawmakers should be treated as essential workers. The GOP has pushed back on Democrats’ calls to temporarily shift toward proxy voting — citing concerns too much power would be placed into the hands of certain members — and remote hearings and depositions, with critics arguing it bucks tradition and could present security concerns.

McCarthy — who has been in bipartisan talks with House leaders over how Congress can safely function during the health crisis — and Cole, along with House Administration Committee ranking member Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Illinois Republican tests positive for coronavirus The Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war MORE (R-Ill.), released a GOP-led plan on how they believe Congress can function in Washington while abiding by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Democrats, however, argued the Republican plan fell short of what’s needed to keep members and staff safe amid the pandemic.

Hice advocated for the group of bipartisan lawmakers who have been in bipartisan talks on how Congress should function during health emergencies to reconsider the GOP plan.

“These are not minor procedural changes. The voices of our constituents must be heard — whether that’s by a member of the minority or majority party. I applaud Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s reasonable plan to safely reopen the House,” Hice said in a statement.

“However, until the House fully resumes normal operations, 39 colleagues have joined me in sending this letter to members of the bipartisan task force urging them to institute committee rules and procedures that fully respect the minority’s rights.”

Read House conservatives... by kballuck1 on Scribd