House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi to release a plan to safely reopen Congress, arguing lawmakers are "essential" workers who need to be on the job during the coronavirus pandemic.
"I fully appreciate the unprecedented nature of this challenge before us. But now, more than ever, our constituents expect us to rise to the occasion and overcome these trying circumstances," McCarthy said in a letter to Pelosi Tuesday.
The House has been under a prolonged recess as Americans are under stay-home and social-distancing orders to stop the spread of COVID-19. The last time a majority of members have been to Washington was to conduct a voice vote on the massive CARES Act aid package March 27.
"It is imperative we outline a pathway forward that ensures transparency and regular order for all members—not centralized decision-making by a select group of leadership and staff that reduces the role of representative to merely voting 'yea' or 'nay' on pre-drafted proposals," McCarthy said.
He added, "I appreciate your attention to this critical matter and offer my full assistance as we look to get back to work in the People’s House."
Tensions are brewing on both sides of the aisle and some members have expressed frustration they feel sidelined during the crisis. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., blasted Congress for taking one voice vote last month and then choosing to "peace out" for a monthlong recess. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., showed up at Capitol this week saying he's prepared to work even if Pelosi is not.
While members have been conducting work at home and staying in touch through video and phone meetings, McCarthy said the House's "current posture cannot and should not become the norm."
House members are expected to return Thursday for an anticipated vote on an interim $470 billion relief bill to shore up funding for small businesses, hospitals and testing. And then Congress is expected to consider a much larger stimulus plan as soon as May that is commonly referred to as "Phase 4" relief.
But McCarthy expressed frustration that talks on this massive legislation are conducted between Pelosi and the White House and Senate leaders, while members are called back to D.C. only when it's time to vote on finished legislation.
Several members of Congress have become infected with the coronavirus in the meantime. And Congress doesn't have formal rules -- yet -- to conduct committee meetings and take votes on the floor remotely.
As soon as Thursday, the House could vote on a plan to allow proxy voting during the pandemic, which could be a first step to remote voting and committee work. But McCarthy said in the letter that members need details and opportunity to scrutinize the proxy voting proposal before "changing 200 years of House precedent."
McCarthy called on Pelosi to deliver to a clear path forward on how Congress will fulfill its core duties as the pandemic continues. Specifically, how will committees conduct business; when will members get an updated schedule and how will Congress be voting.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Tuesday urged his relevant committee chairpersons to develop guidelines for remote committee work and remote voting with technology.