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Republicans abuse virus safety rules to stop House from getting anything done

‘At some point in time, if this continues, we’ll have to deal with it,’ said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

By Josh Israel - March 10, 2021
Chip Roy

House Republicans are so determined to waste time in Congress that they are even obstructing their own legislation. Using pandemic safety rules, they are able to waste hours on procedural issues.

On Monday, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas and members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus blocked approval of 13 bipartisan bills by demanding individual roll-call votes on each of them. Due to safety rules instituted during the pandemic, it would have likely taken more than 10 hours to vote on all of them. Democratic leaders were forced to postpone the votes until a later date.

In recent weeks, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) has repeatedly forced time-consuming votes on whether to adjourn the House and send everyone home without completing their work.

Roy told reporters on Tuesday that these obstructionist tactics are really “just having a conversation” about how to fix the way the House does business.

In normal times, the House typically moves fairly quickly and efficiently in holding votes and passing legislation, unlike the Senate. If the House holds a roll-call vote, it usually takes a bit more than 15 minutes; if several are scheduled in a row, the subsequent votes are often shortened to five minutes. Members can come onto the floor, record their vote electronically, and be done.

But due to the pandemic, the House has had to change the process to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Rather than have hundreds of members flood into the chamber at once, the House physician devised a system of shifts in which small groups come onto the floor to vote and then leave.

A temporary system of proxy voting allows members to cast votes on behalf of absent colleagues, but requires them to verbally announce those votes out loud.

The result has been that each vote takes more than 45 minutes, with many going longer than an hour.

Rather than try to speed up the process, many conservative lawmakers have sought to use it to delay and obstruct. While this has not prevented passage of top Democratic priorities like the For the People Act and the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, it has meant a delay of action on smaller, noncontroversial bills — even some sponsored by House Republicans.

On Monday, votes were postponed on a bill on awarding congressional gold medals to the people who protected lawmakers during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection; a microloan transparency and accountability bill proposed by Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TX); and legislation sponsored by Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) to make small business lending more efficient.

This obstruction for obstruction’s sake has also been a tactic of Republicans in the Senate. Last week, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin forced a delay for more than 10 hours by demanding staffers read the entire 600-plus-page pandemic relief bill aloud, while his colleagues kept the chamber working through the night to consider dozens of doomed amendments.

Some House Republicans have objected to the stalling tactics — particularly Greene’s repeated motions to adjourn. “It’s frustrating,” Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan told CNN this week. “I don’t see that this is resonating at home, the motions to adjourn. I mean it’s just a pain. It’s a pain in the ass.”

But the House GOP leadership is doing nothing to stop it.

Asked at a Tuesday press conference about the delays, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise declined to criticize them and used the opportunity to whine that the Democratic majority was not giving the minority enough input. “Leadership has been very vocal on the Republican side that we want an open congressional process.”

Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney agreed, telling reporters, “The majority needs to understand we are not interested in a situation where they have taken away so many rights of the minority and they expect things are going to operate smoothly.”

House Democratic leaders say that if the obstruction continues, they may just chance the rules. “Not yet. At some point in time, if this continues, we’ll have to deal with it,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Politico on Tuesday.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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