A bipartisan group of House lawmakers sent a letter to congressional leadership Wednesday morning requesting a rule change that would allow for remote voting during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The letter, addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, states, “We write to ask that the House of Representatives hold itself to the same high standard that it is asking of the nation: to put public health and safety first.”
“While Congress is an institution with a proud history, we cannot stand on tradition if it puts lives — and our ability to be the voice of our constituents –at risk,” the letter says.
“Tonight, we ask that you bring to the floor a simple rules change that would permit remote voting for Members of Congress during this national public health emergency.”
The request, which is signed by a bloc of rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats, comes a day after the death toll from the virus in the US passed 100. Public health officials are encouraging the public to stay home and practice social distancing to contain the spread of the virus. So far, both Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, have rejected the possibility of remote voting.
Stressing this sentiment, the letter states, “Congress also should be no exception to the public health safeguards.”
“We are undermining our unified bipartisan message to the American people when we come together in the crowded House floor to vote,” the lawmakers write. “The image of over 430 members and approximately 100 staffers clustered together on the House floor during votes is inconsistent with public health guidance from public health officials.”
“Voting in the traditional method is not social distancing. We are often pressed tightly together as dozens of members use the same machines,” the letter says.
The requested rule change underscores the unique challenge facing lawmakers as they both grapple with how to contain the spread of coronavirus throughout the US and take steps to avoid spreading it within Congress.
Thus far, 13 lawmakers have announced steps to self-quarantine or otherwise isolate themselves as a precaution after coming into contact with an infected individual.
CNN previously reported that a number of House and Senate offices have begun practicing how they would operate if a chunk of aides were forced into quarantine and had to work from home, congressional sources say.
“We recognize this is a change,” Wednesday’s letter states. “But the moment demands that we have the courage to change. The House of Representatives should expect of itself the same flexibility and high standards of hygiene that we are asking of others.”