Republicans in Congress keep pushing for unsafe working conditions

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Republican members of the House are making dramatic statements denouncing basic physician-advised virus safety measures.

Rep. Debbie Lesko complained in an interview on Tuesday that a new temporary rule allowing some House members to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic was "crazy" because they might not actually do their jobs.

"They can sit home and don't even have to come in. They're supposedly supposed to be watching, but who knows what people are gonna be doing. Maybe they're gonna be doing their laundry or whatever," she told the far-right-wing outlet One America News. "And not doing the people's business. I'm for getting back to work, just like everyone else in the nation. That's why I voted no on this crazy proxy bill."

This was the latest in a long series of loud objections by Republicans to a rule change passed last week by the House of Representatives to allow members to hold committee hearings remotely and provide them with the option of designating a colleague to cast their votes for them on the floor during the pandemic. The changes will let members opt to work from home and model social distancing to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Tom Cole, and Rep. Rodney Davis

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In a joint statement last week, McCarthy and two senior GOP colleagues accused the Democratic majority of desertion. "Across our nation, Americans of all stripes are making sacrifices and doing their part to defeat this virus – and they expect Washington to do the same," they wrote. "Unfortunately, far from being 'captains of this ship' as Speaker Pelosi recently proclaimed, the Democrats' proposal calls for the House of Representatives to abandon ship – potentially for the remainder of the session."

Rep. Andy Biggs

In an opinion column on Monday, Biggs called the 45-day emergency rule the end of America's representative democracy. "It's been a pretty busy week for the Speaker as she has remade Congress by shattering the great institution of constitutional representation, Congress, while enslaving generations of future Americans," he wrote in the Daily Caller. "And as an autocrat now runs the United States House of Representatives we can bid a mournful farewell to our constitutional republic."

Rep. Mo Brooks

Brooks managed to frame working from home as both laziness and socialism in the same tweet late last month. "#Socialist #Democrat #Congressmen support #proxy voting by a 20 to 1 margin. Dems give #SpeakerPelosi their proxy, who then casts their votes. Dems GET PAID IN FULL without showing up for work at Capitol Hill," he said. "SAD! COWARDLY!"

Rep. Jim Jordan

Last week, Jordan angrily denounced the impending rule change as "dangerous," arguing that it was unconstitutional because the framers didn't mention social media when they established the rules. "This is a dangerous place we're heading and everybody knows it, but the majority is gonna go ahead and do it. That is what ticks me off," he said at a hearing. "Proxy voting, Zoom, WebEx, Houseparty meetings and hearings, quasi-hearings, remote depositions. Remote depositions? The example this sends, the precedent this sets is wrong, and I think even the majority knows it."

Rep. Brian Mast

In an interview last month with the Hill, Mast said that the country was not "set up to operate" with proxy voting and that, given the way voting has been conducted so far, "now is not the time to break that tradition." He acknowledged that some of his colleagues have had COVID-19 and that some are at elevated risk if they do contract the coronavirus, but argued that everyone else could just stay safe by keeping clean. "But for the rest of us in the rest of America that have learned how to take better attention to our sanitizing the world around us, washing our hands, having physical barriers between spreading germs, things like that, we can be here doing the work of the people that's far more urgent than the way that we are approaching it right now."

Rep. Joe Wilson

Wilson argued in a Saturday press release that if members of Congress could be present to change the rules, that was proof that they did not need to work from home. "The vote to allow remote voting in Congress is simply irresponsible. Although we are currently in a crisis, this pandemic is no excuse to forget our Constitution. If Congress was able to vote on the House Floor today, surely Members can conduct official business in a safe manner that follows guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control going forward."

The GOP unanimously opposed the rule change, ignoring the expressed concerns of the attending physician of the Congress about the 435 members of House meeting in person in Washington, D.C., which remains a coronavirus hot spot.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally triggered the rule allowing proxy voting this week, following a letter from the House sergeant-at-arms certifying the ongoing public health emergency. The temporary change does not make proxy voting mandatory. Members who do not choose to work from home can still vote in person.

The complaints about the change are part of a broader GOP push to force the country to return to work against the advice of public health experts and economists.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that the Trump reelection campaign is looking for "pro-Trump doctors" to endorse ending stay-at-home measures and provide pushback against the view that Trump is ignoring expert advice in pushing to reopen. The campaign's communications director, Tim Murtaugh, defended the move to counter medical expertise: "Our job at the campaign is to reflect President Trump’s point of view. We are his campaign. There is no difference between us and him."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.