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Capitol Correspondence - 06.02.20

How Is Congress Operating Right Now, and How Does this Affect COVID-19 Legislation?

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ANCOR is sharing this reporting by Politico Pro to inform our members’ advocacy, so they can get a fuller sense of the climate in which members of Congress are making decisions.

“The House returns this week to vote on bills not related to the coronavirus pandemic for the first time since March. But signs of the chamber returning to normal are still weeks — if not months — away.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday he couldn’t predict when or even if the chamber would resume its regular roster of legislative activities this summer, saying that would be dictated by when committees finish drafting a slew of must-pass bills to fund the government and reauthorize highway, water and defense programs

[…]

In the meantime, top Democrats including Hoyer have begun orchestrating how to allow proxy voting on the floor of the House for the first time in the chamber’s history — a change that has already been panned by Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

The House starting Wednesday will allow lawmakers to cast their votes from outside of the U.S. Capitol, through a proxy, on a bill to reauthorize federal spy powers. The House will also vote Thursday on several noncontroversial bills, including legislation addressing human rights abuses against the Uyghurs, an ethnic minority group in China, and a proposal to give small businesses more time to spend coronavirus-related federal loans.

The Democrats’ whip team will hold a call Tuesday afternoon for lawmakers who are planning to vote remotely this week.

So far, about two dozen Democrats have said they will use a proxy for this week’s votes, many from western states like California, Washington and Oregon with long travel times. Other lawmakers who have also chosen to vote via proxy live closer to Washington, D.C., but fall into high-risk categories for coronavirus.

House Republican leadership, however, is encouraging their lawmakers not to use the proxy voting system, according to GOP sources. Instead, members are advised to submit statements to the congressional record if they can’t be in the Capitol and want to record how they would have voted.

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Top Republicans have crusaded against the rules change. McConnell questioned the constitutionality of the system, while House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) suggested Republicans will mount a legal challenge after the procedure is used. […]

The House is returning to the Capitol less than two weeks after passing a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill — its largest legislative package ever considered — without input from Republicans or the White House and just a single GOP vote.

Democrats have touted their sprawling legislation, known as the Heroes Act, as crucial support for cash-strapped state and local governments, as well as the millions of people who have lost jobs during the pandemic. But Senate GOP leaders have rejected the bill, insisting that Congress should focus, instead, on reopening the economy to stem the financial bleeding across the country. They’ve also maintained that lawmakers should wait and see how trillions of dollars in previously approved assistance plays out before voting for more.

McConnell and some senior Senate Republicans, however, have begun to shift their tone in recent days, as they’ve signaled that Congress may need to take up additional pandemic recovery packages.

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The Kentucky Republican also reiterated that any additional assistance must have some strings attached, such as liability protections for businesses operating during the pandemic.”