Senators pen op-ed calling for remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic

Senators pen op-ed calling for remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic
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Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Senate to try to pass fix for Paycheck Protection Program Thursday MORE (D-Ill.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanCongress headed toward unemployment showdown McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill Fight emerges over unemployment benefits in next relief bill MORE (R-Ohio) penned an op-ed Tuesday calling for remote voting to protect their fellow lawmakers amid the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday.

The lawmakers, who introduced a rule change last week to allow for remote voting during a national crisis, wrote in an op-ed published by The Washington Post that it is “imperative that our federal institutions find ways to continue to perform their constitutional duties” during the pandemic. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Doctors push Trump to quickly reopen country in letter organized by conservatives MORE (R-Ky.) Sunday became the first senator to test positive for the coronavirus, and several senators are currently in self-quarantine and have missed votes.

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“The Senate’s work has not stopped. We are still responding to our constituents, performing casework duties to solve constituent problems and working on legislation to address this crisis. Over the course of the past few weeks, the Senate has been able to pass key pieces of legislation designed to alleviate some of the worst effects from the coronavirus pandemic,” Portman and Durbin wrote Tuesday. 

“In an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner, we passed legislation providing $8.3 billion in federal aid to go toward slowing the spread of the virus and helping affected individuals get the treatment they need. We also passed bipartisan legislation that will extend sick leave to hard-working Americans, expand unemployment benefits for folks who have lost their job during this economic slowdown and provide free coronavirus testing,” they continued.

However, the bipartisan lawmakers added that senators are “working under the possibility” that the upper chamber “may have to abruptly close to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Durbin and Portman noted that former President Madison called for Congress to be moved to a hotel so it could continue working after British forces burned down the Capitol building. They also noted that a bunker was created in West Virginia for Congress during the Cold War, and the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institute formed a commission on the continuity of government following the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

“We are at a similar point today, only this time, it is not the Senate’s meeting space that is at risk — it is the senators themselves. That is why we introduced a bipartisan resolution that would amend Senate rules to allow senators to vote remotely during times of extraordinary national crisis like we see today," they wrote.

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The resolution would give the majority and minority Senate leaders, Sens. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMemorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans On The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K MORE (R-Ky.) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' Senate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans States, companies set up their own COVID-19 legal shields MORE (D-N.Y.), joint authority to allow remote voting. The procedure would take effect for up to 30 days, and then the chamber would have to vote again to renew remote voting for another 30-day period.

“We hope that this rule change is never needed, but we must be prepared. We know there is resistance to changing a Senate tradition, but we believe our constitutional obligation to govern and maintain a balance of power between the branches is more important than the tradition of in-person voting,” Durbin and Portman wrote.

McConnell has previously rejected the suggestion of remote voting, saying lawmakers could lengthen votes and practice “social distancing.”

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' Lies, damned lies and the truth about Joe Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead MORE (D-Calif.) also rejected the idea for House lawmakers Tuesday, saying that "there are serious constitutional, technological and security concerns about it," in an interview with MSNBC.