By TODD STACY and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Congressional Democrats are considering a rule change that could allow for remote or proxy voting to keep lawmakers from gathering in the U.S. Capitol during the coronavirus outbreak, but one Alabama congressman spoke out Thursday against the proposal.
On a conference call with reporters, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Anniston, said he was "very much opposed" to a proxy voting plan because of security concerns. He's the lead Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.
"We need to be in Washington showing leadership as long as we feel like we can carry out safe practices, and I think we can," Rogers said. "We need to be out there doing the people's business and showing the country that we're leading and trying to get us back to a good point.
"Plus, I have real apprehension just as a member of the Homeland Security Committee and knowing about cyber... knowing about the vulnerabilities. You're just inviting problems if you start trying to vote remotely like that, all kinds of mischief from the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians and others. We just don't need to be going there."
U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass, who chairs the House Rules Committee, is proposing the proxy voting plan. In a statement Thursday, McGovern said his proposal would allow any member unable to travel to Washington due to the pandemic to provide specific instruction for each vote to another member authorized to vote on his or her behalf.
“There would be no ability to give a general proxy,” McGovern said. “Members would have to direct each and every vote."
While not specific, McGovern said his plan would seek to address security concerns.
“This system would enable members to vote remotely in a secure way, without using the kind of technology that is susceptible to hacking or interference by foreign bad actors," he said.
“We don’t know how long this pandemic will threaten public health, or how long state stay at home orders will last,” McGovern wrote. “We all know, though, that Congress needs to be working, whether in person, remotely, or both. We should not wait for this pandemic to end to make changes to the rules that help us to do our jobs in such an unprecedented time.”
Congressman Robert Aderholt, a Republican from Haleyville, is also generally opposed to the idea of proxy voting because of the precedent it would set, his spokesman said. No other members of Alabama's congressional delegation could be reached by press time.
In Montgomery, the Alabama House of Representatives generally allows proxy voting, but sometimes invokes a rule prohibiting it when debating certain bills.
Two issues Rogers hopes Congress will take up in short order are pumping more rescue funding to small businesses and addressing the international coronavirus issues with China and the World Health Organization.
Rogers expressed frustration at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's attempt this week to negotiate more items into an additional rescue package rather than pass a small business funding boost proposed by Republicans. The Payment Protection Program, which Congress recently created to steer emergency money to small businesses to keep their employees working, has already exhausted its $349 billion in initial funding.
Rogers said he was optimistic about a bi-partisan compromise after hearing from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, via conference call Thursday.
"Hopefully we can reach some sort of a deal on the Payroll Protection Program," he said. "I think that the deal we may end up with will be providing some additional money for hospitals, which is one of the things [Democrats] wanted. But we don't know for sure."
Rogers has long been a critic of the World Health Organization, which has come under fire recently for its early handling of the new coronavirus outbreak. Last year, Rogers sponsored legislation that would withdraw the United States from the United Nations and WHO.
President Donald Trump this week announced he would end American payments to the WHO, which totaled nearly $900 million over the last three years.
Rogers agreed with Trump's decision and said he hopes Congress can send a message internationally that the United States won't tolerate actions that endanger its citizens.
"I hope that when we get back, Congress in a bipartisan fashion will support what [Trump's] doing. What China has done, what the WHO has done, is indefensible and there need to be consequences," Rogers said.
“This is one I think you’ll see us be very bi-partisan about - dealing with the WHO and dealing with China and their culpability for what we’re going through right now.”