Massie calls for Congress to hold virtual public hearings on coronavirus

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., the controversial House member who last week forced over 200 House members to return to Washington, D.C., to pass the coronavirus relief package, said Tuesday that Congress should be holding virtual public hearings on the coronavirus threat while members are out of town.

After passing the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), both the House of Representatives and the Senate are not planning on convening again until April 20. Leadership in each chamber has indicated that should the need for urgent legislation arise members would be called back to Washington, D.C., while also swatting down suggestions that members could vote remotely to limit their exposure to each other while still taking care of legislative business.

Massie said in a Tuesday morning tweet that Congressional leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are avoiding remote voting in order to better control how members vote, and that members should be holding tele-hearings to direct their legislative response to the crisis once they are back in Washington.

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"Two reasons Congressional leaders don't want remote voting for members," Massie said. "1) too hard to twist arms through the phone. 2) wouldn't be able to justify unrecorded votes."

He continued: "At a minimum, we should be holding public hearings on this virus using modern teleconferencing technology."

Pelosi swatted away questions Monday about the chance the House could attempt to vote or meet remotely during the coronavirus crisis.

"Let's not waste too much time on something that's not going to happen," Pelosi said when asked about remote voting on a conference call with reporters Monday. She indicated that House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., was looking into remote voting in the future but that the chamber would not be ready to use remote voting until after the coronavirus crisis abates.

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In fact, McGovern's House Rules Committee releases a report last week that said the risks of allowing remote voting, at least in the immediate future, outweigh the benefits. The report cited the hastily put together app that led to a fiasco at the Iowa Democratic caucuses well as a 2007 controversy caused by a combination of human error and a malfunction in the House's electronic voting system that "spurred the creation of an investigative committee" as just some of the reasons not to rush to create a system for members to vote remotely.

"A rule change of this magnitude would also be one of the biggest rule changes in the last century, in one of the most critical institutions in our country," the report says. "This change cannot be implemented overnight, and likely cannot be accomplished in time to address the current crisis."

The report also cited the potential for cyberattacks on the House's remote voting or remote meeting infrastructure.

This comes after after McConnell, two weeks ago, said that he would find ways to allow members to social distance while they vote "without fundamentally changing Senate rules."

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That did not stop Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., from writing an op-ed in the Washington Post advocating that their chamber's move to remote voting to ensure "the ability to convene the Senate and get our work done even if we can’t safely gather in the Capitol."

One of McConnell's suggestions was extending the time allowed to take a vote so that senators could enter the chamber just a few at a time. The House would have taken a similar route Friday if Massie had managed to block its effort to pass the CARES Act without a recorded vote, leaving the vote open longer than usual so members could enter the chamber to vote in smaller shifts.

Paired voting, proxy voting and enhanced unanimous consent — a potential change in House rules which could allow measures to pass by unanimous consent as long as fewer than a specific number of members object — are also possible rules changes mentioned by the Rules Committee report.

Fox News Chad Pergram and Caroline McKee contributed to this report