Last Wednesday, two U.S. representatives — Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah — tested positive for the new coronavirus. And over the weekend, GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he had tested positive. In total, nearly 30 House members are at some stage of self-quarantine and five senators are self-quarantining.
The outbreak of the coronavirus on Capitol Hill has underscored just how ill-equipped Congress is to govern when its members cannot be physically present. Already five Senate Republicans had to miss Sunday’s vote to pass an emergency economic stimulus package because they were quarantined. And if more members become unable to appear in the Senate or House chambers, we could eventually see a struggle to achieve an in-person quorum.
Technically, the Constitution only requires the Senate and House to have a majority of members present to establish a quorum to pass legislation, but both chambers have rules that require senators and representatives to be physically present to cast votes. Leadership in both chambers also largely oppose allowing members to vote without being physically present, but this hasn’t stopped some legislators from renewing calls for remote voting.