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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 HiceHillicon Valley: Department of Justice sues Google | House Republicans push for tech bias hearing | Biden drawing more Twitter engagement for first time House Republicans push VA for details on recent data breach IRS closes in on final phase of challenging tax season 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 HoyerAlabama Republican becomes third House member to test positive for COVID-19 this week House Democrats pick DeLauro to lead Appropriations panel Congress faces late-year logjam MORE (D-Md.), Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal McCarthy woos Freedom Caucus with eye on Speakership House GOP uses procedural tool to protest proxy voting MORE (R-Calif.), Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rules Committee ranking member Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHouse report says lawmakers could securely cast remote votes amid pandemic Next Congress expected to have record diversity Native Americans elected to Congress in record numbers this year MORE (R-Okla.).

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"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.”

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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 DavisGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Biden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond 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.”

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