Jul 26, 2021 - Health

Scoop: Pelosi’s new COVID plans

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seen entering the Rose Garden for an event.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi enters the Rose Garden on Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to extend proxy voting through the fall — and potentially until the end of the year — Democratic lawmakers and aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: The spread of the Delta variant has alarmed both members and staffers anxious about interacting with the unvaccinated. Pelosi’s anticipated move — continuing an emergency COVID-19 measure enacted last year so lawmakers could vote remotely — is aimed at allaying those concerns.

  • “Extending the proxy-voting process is the only rational course forward,” said Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas). “Hopefully, the surge will subside sooner than later, and if so, then perhaps life can get back to normal.”
  • The move also will give lawmakers more flexibility to attend events in their districts throughout the fall amid potential razor-thin votes on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, budget reconciliation resolution, annual spending package and motion to increase the debt ceiling.
  • With just a 220-211 Democratic majority, Pelosi has little margin for error. She also can't afford to lose older members to the virus.
  • A Pelosi aide said no decisions have been made about extending proxy voting and stressed that the Speaker would follow the guidance of the Office of Attending Physician.

Driving the news: Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) announced over the weekend he had contracted the coronavirus for a second time, saying he had his first bout in January 2020.

  • While Higgins has encouraged his constituents to get vaccinated, he has not said whether he himself has gotten a COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Last week, a vaccinated member of Pelosi’s staff, as well as a vaccinated White House official, tested positive after attending the same event.

The big picture: In the face of the Delta variant, the Biden administration is grappling with how to modify public health guidance, and whether to recommend any new masking requirements.

  • The White House is “always going to be guided by our North Star, and that is the CDC and our health and medical experts,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.
  • The New York Times reported Monday that the Department of Veterans Affairs will require its frontline health care workers to get the vaccine in the next two months.
  • Pelosi's home state of California also announced Monday it will require state employees and all health care workers to show proof of a coronavirus vaccination or get tested weekly, beginning next month.

But, but, but: While cases are up — with the 7-day average of new cases north of 50,000 — the number of hospitalizations is not as high as previous waves.

  • In the United Kingdom, which is further along in its Delta wave than the U.S., the number of new cases has dropped six days in a row — down to roughly 25,000 cases from a high of nearly 55,000 on July 17.

Be smart: Pelosi is under pressure from some members to extend proxy voting indefinitely, Delta variant or not.

  • While remote voting remains controversial for political purists, it's become popular with members of both parties.
  • "It is time for Congress to revisit proposals that would allow some more expeditious form of proxy voting on a permanent basis," said Rep. Vela. "Members should have the flexibility to vote from wherever they may be, if their service requires their presence elsewhere."
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