U.S. House Democrats push for new rules to allow remote voting amid coronavirus


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A large group of U.S. House of Representatives Democrats pushed on Monday for the chamber to allow its members to vote remotely during the coronavirus outbreak over Republican objections if there is no agreement this week on how to do so.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol is seen from the Washington Monument, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Washington, U.S., April 25, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

The call came as both the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate prepared to go back into full session on May 4 after a month’s recess prompted by the fast-spreading disease that has killed more than 55,000 Americans.

The 100-member House “New Democrats Coalition” said lawmakers should find a way to work remotely when necessary, until public health officials provide guidance that it would be safe for all lawmakers and staff to physically return to the House full-time.

Businesses, schools and even the U.S. Supreme Court have adopted new teleworking systems to allow them to function while their employees, students and justices maintain the social distance from one another that public health officials advise is critical to slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.

Last week the House postponed a vote to set up remote proxy voting and virtual committee work, after Republicans protested, instead agreeing to a bipartisan commission to study the matter.

“While we hope a bipartisan agreement with Republican leadership that results in temporary remote capabilities on the floor and in committees can be reached in the coming days, if House Republican leadership does not engage on this matter in a constructive way, we must move forward,” the New Democrats’ statement said.

Congress has not met in regular session since last month, though lawmakers have passed major coronavirus relief bills worth nearly $3 trillion, partly by using rules allowing bills to pass with just a small number of lawmakers present at any one time.

Republicans have been arguing for all lawmakers to get back to Washington, echoing Republican President Donald Trump’s urging that the country should reopen quickly now that new cases of the virus are declining in some areas.

Democratic leaders have said that their next top priority for responding to the coronavirus pandemic will be passing aid to help state and local governments whose budgets have been hard hit by the crisis.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile told Fox Radio that his next “red line” would be measures to protect businesses and healthcare professionals from coronavirus-related lawsuits when states start to lift pandemic restrictions.

Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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