As the number of lawmakers who have tested positive for the coronavirus grows, prompting many of their colleagues to self-quarantine, some members are pushing to move to remote voting, which would break a longtime institutional tradition of voting in person.
"I totally support the idea of remote voting so the Senate can continue to operate during this crisis," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Twitter. "We should make this change before the Senate leaves town."
Last week, Ohio Republican Rob Portman and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois introduced a resolution to allow remote voting. That legislation gained urgency Sunday when Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he had tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting some of his GOP colleagues to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution. That helped add to the failure of a key procedural vote on an emergency stimulus package because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was unable to persuade enough Democrats to vote in favor of the motion.
So far, three lawmakers — Paul, and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah — have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. As a result, more than a dozen of their colleagues remain in quarantine.
In the House, 65 lawmakers have signed onto a plan spearheaded by California Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Eric Swalwell and Texas Republican Van Taylor to make the change to remote voting. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, chairman of the House Rules Committee, to explore the proposal.
Swalwell said "it is critical" that he "can continue to advocate for working families in my district" during the coronavirus outbreak. Porter said the government was "asking businesses, schools, and local governments to practice social distancing to keep Americans safe — Congress should be no different."
Following Paul's announcement Sunday, two of his colleagues Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both Republicans of Utah, said they would self-quarantine.
Paul said Monday he took the coronavirus test because of his extensive travel as a lawmaker and prior medical history that forced removal of a portion of his lung. But just hours before he got his results Sunday, Paul was seen at the Senate gym by Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, an aide to Moran's office confirmed.
The detail caused alarm. Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and others said Paul should have self-quarantined rather than risk further exposure at the Capitol building.
I’ve never commented about a fellow Senator’s choices/actions. Never once.— Kyrsten Sinema (@kyrstensinema) March 22, 2020
This, America, is absolutely irresponsible. You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results. It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus. https://t.co/651TJf8mWf
But Paul's office pushed back.
"We want to be clear, Senator Paul left the Senate IMMEDIATELY upon learning of his diagnosis," his office said via his Twitter account.
On Monday, Paul defended the move again, saying in a statement that if he had followed the rules of testing, he would not have found out he had the illness because he was asymptomatic.
"For those who want to criticize me for lack of quarantine, realize that if the rules on testing had been followed to a tee, I would never have been tested and would still be walking around the halls of the Capitol," Paul said.
In the House, Diaz-Balart and McAdams tested positive said they began to experience symptoms of the illness March 14. That was hours after they joined hundreds of House members to approve a coronavirus response package.
In the ensuing hours, another 11 House members said they would remain in self-quarantine for 14 days. Several said their quarantines would end this Friday.