Mar 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Congressmen reintroduce bill to allow members to vote from home districts

A tour operator, wearing a protective mask, gestures as he leads a tour near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 9. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) are reintroducing a 2013 bill that would enable members of Congress to virtually participate in committee hearings and vote remotely on suspension bills from their home districts amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to an advanced copy of the press release obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: Congress, which is tasked with governing the country out of the coronavirus crisis, could quickly become a dangerous place for members and staffers, many of whom are over the age of 60 — the age group the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised to stay home as much as possible.

  • Millions of visitors also pass through Capitol Hill each year. As of this afternoon, visitors are still allowed in the building.
  • Meanwhile, several members of Congress — including Sen. Ted Cruz and Reps. Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, Doug Collins and Julia Brownley — have placed themselves under self-quarantine after interacting with individuals who have tested positive for the virus.

Details: The "Members Operating to Be Innovative and Link Everyone (MOBILE) Resolution" would create a secure, remote voting system for members to vote on suspension bills, which are generally noncontroversial bills that require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Worth noting: Swalwell has introduced and failed to pass the MOBILE Resolution every Congress since the 113th (2013–2015), so the measure faces an uphill battle.

  • But the ongoing concerns of safety surrounding the coronavirus may change the voting dynamics. Members of Congress have been floating ideas on how to continue legislating while also prioritizing their health.

What they're saying:

  • “Modern technology belongs in Congress and my resolution would allow Members to not only spend more time with their constituents and their families, but would prove useful for a number of situations, including the public health crisis in which we currently find ourselves,” Swalwell said.
  • “The ability for Members of Congress to vote remotely if need be has been technologically feasible for decades,” said Crawford. “The ongoing coronavirus outbreak underscores the need for Congress to embrace what the 21st Century has to offer.”

Go deeper: The latest developments from the coronavirus

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Lawmakers self-quarantine after contact with confirmed coronavirus cases

Rep. Mark Meadows speaks to members of the media at the Capitol in January. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said on Tuesday that he will self-quarantine following "a positive test for COVID-19 by a friend in Washington, D.C., with whom he recently interacted," per a statement.

Details: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) andRep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) also self-quarantined after coming into contact with someone at CPAC 2020 who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) said she will self-quarantine after coming in contact with a confirmed case in D.C.

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Coronavirus hits 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.

First Congress members test positive for coronavirus

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart speaks during a news conference in February. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) tweeted Wednesday night that he has tested positive for the novel coronavirus — hours after Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) announced his results came back positive.

Why it matters: Diaz-Balart and McAdams are the first members of Congress to announce that they have tested positive for the virus, which has infected more than 9,400 people in the U.S. as of early Thursday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 19, 2020 - Health