Mar 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus hits Congress

Hall of Congress

A lone Capitol police officer in an empty corridor of Congress. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

More than a dozen lawmakers have entered voluntary self-quarantine, and more are expected to — seriously testing Speaker Nancy Pelosi's proclamation last week that Congress will be "the last to leave."

Why it matters: The Senate is racing to negotiate a "Phase 3" coronavirus relief package that could top $1 trillion.

  • The bill could include loans to small businesses, direct payments to Americans and bailouts for struggling industries.
  • Mitch McConnell's plan to move at "warp speed" could be upended if the coronavirus spreads through the halls of Congress, where the average lawmaker is close to 60 years old.

Driving the news: Two House members, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), revealed Wednesday that they tested positive for the coronavirus.

  • Among those in self-quarantine is Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 2 Republican in the House.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told members Thursday that the House will not return to session until the Senate passes its bill and that voting procedures will be adjusted to follow CDC guidance on large gatherings.

  • More than 50 members have signed onto a resolution by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) demanding that the House allow remote voting.
  • The argument: Congress is undermining public health officials on social distancing.

On the Senate side, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are floating a similar remote voting resolution.

  • “Yes, it is new," Durbin said on the Senate floor. "Yes, it is different. Yes, it reflects the 21st century and reflects a challenge the likes of which we have never seen."

Reality check: Politico Playbook notes that it's highly unlikely the House will change the rules to allow mobile voting. Reasons include technological hurdles, complex voter procedures and possible legal challenges.

  • But House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said on a caucus call today that he’s doing a study on remote voting and whether it’s feasible, a Democratic aide tells Axios.
  • McGovern is asking for formalized letters on voting proposals, according to another aide. Reps. Swalwell and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) are expected to send one on mobile voting, while staggered vote timing is also expected to be proposed.

Pelosi issued a statement on Thursday afternoon confirming that she called on McGovern to present a report on House rules, adding that House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) will be issuing a memo on tele-conferencing.

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