Can we not act quickly to avert a single bad development in this epidemic?
Are we doomed to act too late in every last aspect of it, even when problems are perfectly foreseeable?
The news last night that Mario Diaz-Balart and Ben McAdams are infected raised a predictable possibility, namely that we might soon be facing a situation in which too many members of Congress are sick or self-quarantining to form a quorum and conduct the people’s business. That’s bad news under any circumstance. It’s really bad news when the feds are taking big, bold actions every day to head off an economic catastrophe.
Basic, basic, basic good planning would be to let members vote remotely, at least until the crisis has passed. With so many members of Congress in the at-risk group for COVID-19, many of them will have to isolate themselves soon, if not immediately, if more infections are reported. Imagine if just 10 more members of the body of 535 senators and representatives were to test positive; collectively, those 10 might have had personal contact recently with most of the other 525 given how Congress operates. Case in point:
A Georgia state senator went to the doctor on Saturday for a cough and mild fever and got a coronavirus test. On Monday, he felt better and showed up to vote. Today, the test came back positive and the entire state legislature is now self isolating. https://t.co/zvlBXUTu9L
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) March 19, 2020
Look how many are already at risk:
Congressmen in quarantine: #AZ04 Paul Gosar#CA26 Julia Brownley#CO06 Jason Crow#FL01 Matt Gaetz#FL25 Mario Diaz-Balart #GA09 Doug Collins#LA01 Steve Scalise#MO02 Ann Wagner#NC11 Mark Meadows#NY04 Kathleen Rice#OK05 Kendra Horn #PA08 Matt Cartwright #UT04 Ben McAdams
— Kirk A. Bado (@kirk_bado) March 19, 2020
We can’t risk delaying the coming stimulus and other emergency measures because these people are too stupid, stubborn, or slow-footed to act now to enable remote voting. There’s not a moment to waste. Get on it.
I can’t fathom what the argument against it during a pandemic would be. It’s not barred by any law as far as I know. Some members are reportedly worried “about the message it sends to the country,” never mind that the entire country is already locked down coast to coast in fear of the plague. We’re already too spooked to be spooked by anything Congress does to protect itself. On the contrary, given how many people are getting face time with others through FaceTime right now, they’re probably more agreeable at the moment than they’d usually be to have Congress switch to remote voting.
Mitch McConnell opposes the idea but for no coherent reason as far as I can tell. It seems to be mostly a matter of tradition to him, with McConnell insisting that senators can enter the chamber to vote individually if need be. Right — but they’re still inevitably going to have some face-to-face meetings with colleagues or constituents so long as they’re in D.C., as that’s second nature to political creatures. Better to let them get out of dodge, even if that means McConnell needs to corral his caucus on big votes via phone instead of via large caucus meetings where everyone can get everyone else infected.
If it’s a security issue, with the leadership wanting to make sure that votes being cast remotely really are being cast by elected reps and not hackers, there has to be a way of solving that. The president has capabilities to chat securely with certain deputies remotely face to face. If it’s too difficult or expensive to duplicate that for 535 people, there must be lower-tech workarounds. You could require a member to cast a vote two ways, first via a secure phone line for members of Congress and then via basic video conference software so that you can see that the person who’s casting that vote really is the person who’s supposed to be casting it.
There’s no reason to tempt fate by not addressing this problem immediately, with contagion already spreading in the ranks. And while we’re at it, there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t do anything it can right now to facilitate voting by mail in all 50 states in this fall’s election, just in case we’re all forced inside again by the second wave of coronavirus. That problem is perfectly foreseeable too. Get on it now, so that the states can start thinking about the logistics before we end up in a democratic and constitutional nightmare.
Here’s Katie Porter, a Democrat in the House, making the case a few days ago that they should pass remote voting without delay. This was before Diaz-Balart and McAdams were diagnosed. Again, perfectly predictable.