- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed House Democrats on Thursday for taking “paid leave” during the coronavirus.

“While essential workers across the country continue to clock in, the Democratic House of Representatives has essentially put itself on paid leave for months,” Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor. “I understand they’ve convened for legislative session a grand total of two days — two — in the last eight weeks.”

“At this point, I’m wondering if we should send senators over there to collect their newspaper and water the plants,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer argued the opposite is true, criticizing the Republican leader for not putting any coronavirus legislation on the floor.

“If you looked at our activity in the last three weeks, you’d hardly know that there was a COVID-19 crisis,” the New York Democrat said.

The Senate has held a few coronavirus-related committee hearings over the past month, most recently with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome “Jay” Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

However, Republicans generally have resisted working on any new relief package, save for looking into liability protections for small business owners and healthcare providers.

Mr. McConnell argued it wasn’t just the fact that House members aren’t physically present on Capitol Hill, but that there hasn’t been “any serious discussions” for coronavirus. He dismissed the $3 trillion Democrat-led bill the House passed last week as a mere messaging bill.

House Democrats canceled their plans to return in person at the beginning of this month after the Capitol physician warned that members would be putting themselves at risk traveling to the Washington D.C. area, where coronavirus cases are still climbing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended that decision, arguing that the House had four times as many lawmakers as the 100-member Senate did.

After facing a few hurdles with attempts at unanimous consent and voice votes, the House passed the last two major coronavirus bills — their $3 trillion package and the emergency interim bill — by reconvening the House in person for voting day only.

They stretched out the voting and debate process by limiting the number of lawmakers allowed on the floor at any given time and setting up the vote in alphabetically-sorted groups.

Last week, Democrats adopted a temporary 45-day emergency rule change that would officially allow members to do committee work virtually and vote by designating certain proxies to cast their vote for them. Members can only proxy for up to ten members at a time and the instructions must be recorded in writing.

The historic rules change passed on a 217-189 vote, with Republican leadership arguing the measure was a tradition-breaking power grab.

Mrs. Pelosi officially authorized proxy voting for next week, when the House is expected to vote on the Senate-amended FISA reauthorization bill.

Mr. McConnell also criticized the Democrats’ work-from-home solution.

“The Democrats’ new rule says one person may mark himself and ten others present, even if they are nowhere in sight. A flat out lie,” he said. “There will be enormous constitutional questions around anything the House does if they fail to demonstrate a real quorum but plow ahead anyhow.”

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