Even though the prospects of remote voting in Congress remain dim, lawmakers from both parties are pushing leadership to reconsider. The Problem Solvers Caucus – a bipartisan group of 50 House members – is requesting that House leadership take another look at the issue. Senators from both parties also back the effort, as the country fights the spread of the novel coronavirus, largely by not gathering in large groups.
The caucus, led by Representatives Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat, and Tom Reed, a Republican, wrote a letter to congressional leaders with suggestions including voting by phone or videoconference and installing voting machines in district offices to cast roll-call votes from afar.
"[N]ow is the time to plan and approve alternative ways for the U.S. House of Representative to function," the lawmakers wrote.
The group also pitched conducting committee debates through video conferencing technology. Addressing concerns that video conferences could be interrupted or hacked, the group noted that in-person hearings are already disrupted by protesters.
The letter highlights measures taken by nations like England and Japan, which have instituted voting from home during the pandemic. The EU Parliament allowed members to vote by email on coronavirus legislation last month, and Spain has a remote voting system already in place for national emergencies.
"Unlike the flu pandemic of 1918, modern technology offers us a host of options to govern from afar, safely and securely, during these exigent circumstances," they said.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the idea. "[W]e aren't there yet, and we are not going to be there no matter how many letters somebody has sent in," she said Thursday.
The mounting pressure on leadership for the ability to vote remotely comes as lawmakers remain pessimistic that they'll be able to physically return to the Capitol by April 20.
"I'll be very frank with you, we don't want anybody coming back at any time that might not be healthy for them," Pelosi said. "But we are right now concerned about the health of the American people."
Pelosi aims to pass the next bill by unanimous consent. But she's uncomfortable with remote voting because of security, technological and constitutional issues. She told reporters she's "keen" on holding committee meetings electronically, but that is "not allowed either."
"If the rules need to be changed, they need to be done carefully. After 9/11 it took three years," Pelosi said. "Our rules are our best protection."
Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also rejected remote voting, despite increased pressure from both Senate Republicans and Democrats to find an alternative to being on the floor. Last month remote voting gained a little traction when Senators Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, introduced a resolution to amend Senate rules to allow members to cast their votes remotely during a national crisis.
GOP Senator Roy Blunt, of Missouri, agreed it's not likely Congress will be able to come back on April 20, "but we may have to figure out a way to come back," he said, adding that "it could turn out that we need to deal with some of these issues." The Senate failed to approve legislation Thursday during a pro forma session that would extend funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, which is providing loans to small businesses to help keep them afloat during the pandemic. Pelosi opposed the bill and is pushing for the inclusion of funding for community-based financial businesses that serve minority communities.
Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie who objected to the last stimulus coronavirus relief bill, forcing the House to come into session for the vote, said he'll do so again if leaders want to try to pass a measure with unanimous consent .
The House can pass bills by unanimous consent or by voice vote without requiring members to physically be in the chamber unless one member objects.
Massie said he won't allow the House to pass the next bill of primarily small business loans by unanimous consent. "Once again they're recommending that just let Nancy Pelosi pass it on her own, that we can all stay home," Massie said in an interview with Fox Business Wednesday.
"That's not going to fly, it doesn't fly with the Constitution, it doesn't fly for accountability to the taxpayers," Massie said.
Alan He contributed reporting