GOP to Pelosi: Forget remote voting -- get back to work

So much for working from home. House Democrats’ plans to vote on a proxy system for casting votes in Congress ran aground earlier today after House Republicans pledged to object to the rules change. The options for remote operation will instead go to a bipartisan committee, but Republicans want it to be an academic exercise. Instead, they demanded that Pelosi call the House back into session normally to deal with the national emergency:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi abruptly postponed plans Wednesday to change the House rules this week to allow a form of remote voting for the first time in the chamber’s 230-year history after Republicans raised objections to a plan meant to reconcile the need for legislative action with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, Pelosi told fellow House Democratic leaders on a Wednesday morning conference call, the issue would be closely studied by a bipartisan group led by Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Pelosi’s decision, described by two Democratic aides familiar with the call Wednesday, comes as GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate have increasingly called for Congress to return to Washington and begin plotting a return to business as usual — echoing calls from conservative activists and some Republican governors who have advocated loosening the stay-at-home guidelines supported by public health officials.

If this smells like a “Republicans pounce” narrative, you’re not far off, although this might be the slowest-motion pounce yet. For more than two weeks, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate let Pelosi off the hook for refusing to get Congress in session in the national emergency. Doctors, nurses, first responders, many executive-branch workers, and even grocery store and restaurant staff went to work, but Congress sat idle even though legislative action has been badly needed all along. Pelosi instead used the recess to leverage her power through unanimous consent, sidelining all of the other 434 members of her chamber who might have pushed harder for earlier action.

Yesterday, however, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy finally called on Pelosi to get the House back in action. Today, Mitch McConnell stepped up pressure on Pelosi by threatening to recall the Senate ahead of her. McConnell also flexed his own muscle by refusing to allow any progress on the Phase 4 bill for state and local government bailouts until Congress got back into session for the negotiations:

The Republican lawmakers include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who said in several interviews Tuesday that he would not push another coronavirus-related emergency relief bill until Congress was back in session. And in a radio interview Wednesday, McConnell signaled he was ready to reconvene the full Senate early next month despite the stay-at-home order now in effect in Washington through May 15.

Pelosi hasn’t yet capitulated on that score, but her retreat from proxy voting probably signals that she plans to remain in session. Even an attempted rescue by Politifact didn’t cause Pelosi to rethink the issue:

President Donald Trump recently said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to come back from “vacation,” blaming her for a stalemate over a deal to add funds to the exhausted small business loan program, which ran out of money on April 16.

Posts on Facebook take the vacation claim further and suggest that all Democrats are on vacation until May 4 and “refuse to come back” to sign a bill to replenish the program.

This is misleading. All of Congress, which includes House and Senate Republicans, are in recess to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

That’s true … as far as it goes. Congress is in recess, hence Trump’s use of the word “vacation,” which is usually what a recess is. None of them are working and, unlike other Americans who aren’t working, they’re still drawing their paychecks. That sure sounds like vacation in any reasonable use of the word. Let’s not forget how Pelosi is spending her recess, too:

And here’s one fun fact that PolitiFact overlooked in its “false” rating — the House is in recess only because Nancy Pelosi decided to recess the chamber. Nancy Pelosi could just as easily end the recess, which she did yesterday in order to hold the vote tomorrow on the bill replenishing the Paycheck Protection Program. That is precisely what Trump demanded she do, and Pelosi’s presence in the capitol today is a confirmation that she had the power to return the House to business at any time.

This “fact check” is an embarrassment, but then so too is this Brave Sir Robin Congress. In a national emergency, Congress is not a “non-essential business,” and their recess has been a dereliction of duty. Shame on them, Democrats and Republicans alike, and shame on their apologists, too.