Senators introduce rules change that would allow for remote voting

Senators introduce rules change that would allow for remote voting
© Greg Nash

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, and Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanRepublicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks Anti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too Major US port target of attempted cyber attack MORE (R-Ohio) want to change the Senate's rules to allow for remote voting during a national crisis. 

Currently, senators vote in person on the Senate floor, where they indicate, frequently with the point of a finger, whether they will vote for or against something. 

Durbin and Portman argue that bringing all 100 senators back to Washington could go against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance amid growing concerns about the possibility of the spread of coronavirus on Capitol Hill.

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Setting up remote voting would require a change in the Senate rules. The proposal would give the Senate majority and minority leaders the ability to jointly authorize remote voting for 30 days. After that, the Senate would need to vote to reauthorize.

“While I know there is resistance to changing a Senate tradition to allow for remote voting during national emergencies, I believe this is an important issue and worthy of robust discussion amongst our Senate colleagues,” Portman said in a statement. 

Durbin added that lawmakers "need to bring voting in the Senate into the 21st century so that our important work can continue even under extraordinary circumstances. Bob Dylan was right: ‘the times they are a-changin.’"

There is growing anxiety on Capitol Hill about the coronavirus, which has brought businesses to a crawl and roiled the markets. Two House members announced on Wednesday that they have tested positive, sparking an avalanche of self-quarantines by their colleagues. 

Leadership, however, has shot down talk of allowing the Senate to vote remotely. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHow the Democratic Party's campaign strategy is failing America GOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation We don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis MORE (R-Ky.) said they could lengthen votes and encouraged senators to conduct "social distancing." 

“We’ll not be doing that. There are a number of different ways to avoid getting too many people together,” McConnell told reporters.