Democrats are debating over how the House should make its return to Washington, with a majority preferring to remain in their districts given the public health risks but other restive lawmakers saying the party needs to have a presence at the Capitol, The Hill reported.
Most Democrats argue the risks of traveling back-and-forth to Washington, D.C., during a pandemic — and the bad example it would set for a country that’s largely been asked to shelter in place — is reason enough to stay away.
This group argues the focus needs to be on remote voting to allow Congress to do its work while social distancing.
“The way to do that responsibly is to allow for remote-voting procedures,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat who flipped a GOP seat in 2018. “It allows us to fulfill our responsibility while also setting a good example for Americans.”
Other Democrats worry that would leave them sidelined for weeks, allowing President Trump to dictate the coronavirus dialogue. They say it would also complicate efforts to draft emergency legislation and prevent the kind of aggressive oversight demanded of Congress as almost $3 trillion in emergency funding flies out the door.
“If we are legislating with respect to the pandemic, yes, yes, Congress should be open and we should be prepared to have hearings as well as voting on the floor,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).
Those contrasting sentiments were on full display last week, when House GOP leaders forced lawmakers back to Capitol Hill to vote on Congress’s latest coronavirus relief bill, providing almost $500 billion to help small businesses and hospitals weather the crisis. That legislation had passed through the Senate unanimously, meaning most senators could avoid a return to Washington. But Republicans in the House sought a recorded vote, largely to reinforce Trump’s calls to reopen the national economy amid cratering retail spending and historic spikes in unemployment.
Some Democrats welcomed the opportunity to return to Washington, not least to demonstrate that Congress is working to confront the massive devastation — both economic and health-related — caused by the global pandemic.
“There’s a strong sentiment, not just among the Republicans, but there’s a strong sentiment that we should be here working, doing our job,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.). “And we have been working. But it’s sort-of hard for us to really do what we need to do if we’re not available to each other.”
“We’re doing the right things,” Himes added, referring to the face masks and other safety precautions lawmakers have adopted. “But I think there was pressure to actually be here.”
Another group of Democrats, however, was up in arms that Republicans would force lawmakers to return to the Capitol to vote on legislation that passed with virtually no opposition.
“I don’t know what this need is to show that we’re hopping on planes, flying across the country, despite what the public health officials are advising,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (Ill.), head of the Democrats’ campaign arm. “If you want to look at a clear differentiation between the parties, we believe through-and-through in science. And it seems like maybe there’s not the same belief in science [among Republicans] that we have.”