Is it time for the Senate to stay home?
With Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) confirmed to have the coronavirus and multiple GOP senators in quarantine, some lawmakers say now is the time for the upper chamber to make teleworking — or televoting — possible. Republicans hold only a slim majority in the Senate and can ill afford to lose five quarantined senators’ votes.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) voiced his support for remote voting Monday, the Daily Caller reported. “I totally support the idea of remote voting so the Senate can continue to operate during this crisis. We should make this change before the Senate leaves town,” he tweeted.
Lindsey Graham backs remote voting
Sen. Paul announced Sunday that he had tested positive for coronavirus, prompting Utah Sens. Mitt Romney (R) and Mike Lee (R) to go into quarantine. Paul’s diagnosis added momentum to calls from lawmakers to skip town and begin working from home, like the countless Americans around the country already holed up in isolation.
Last week, Graham had said that the Senate should be “fine” with voting in person. But in a shift Monday, he tweeted a link to a Fox News article about Paul’s diagnosis, saying he now supports working from home during the crisis.
Congress is still working — if partisan rancor and gridlock in a time of national crisis can be called by that name — from the Capitol. The push for Congress to telework comes as a $2 trillion relief bill for Americans stalled in the Senate after Democrats rejected the bill in two separate votes. Five Republican senators missed the votes because they were in quarantine.
In addition to Paul, two House lawmakers have tested positive for the virus, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, (R-FL) and Ben McAdams (D-UT), NPR reported. According to Axios, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced Monday that her husband had tested positive. Klobuchar herself is not quarantined, however.
Remote voting picks up steam
Needless to say, remote voting would be a massive break with tradition. But as the number of lawmakers either in quarantine or infected increases, the idea is picking up steam in both houses of Congress.
In the House, nearly 70 Democrats signed a letter Monday calling for remote voting. In the upper chamber, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced a bipartisan resolution Thursday to allow the upper chamber to work from home during a crisis.
“We live in an age where national emergencies, public health crises and terrorism can threaten the ordinary course of Senate business. We 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’,” Durbin said.
The coronavirus has already disrupted the Democratic primary, with a number of states postponing their elections. The primary is largely being overlooked anyway as the coronavirus dominates public attention.
Remote voting is certainly an interesting idea, but if Congress stopped working altogether, would Americans be able to tell the difference?