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Congressional Gridlock & Another Coronavirus Relief Package

As congressional lawmakers worry that another coronavirus wave will hit in the fall, Democrats are ready to move on a new round of pandemic relief. But Republicans are pumping the brakes.

After Failed Bid At Bipartisanship, House Weighs McGovern’s Remote Voting Bill

Rep. Jim McGovern speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 23. (House Television via AP)
Rep. Jim McGovern speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 23. (House Television via AP)

The House could vote tomorrow on a measure from Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern of Worcester, that would allow legislators to vote and hold hearings remotely — a move some Democratic lawmakers have demanded amidst the pandemic despite heavy GOP opposition. The vote would be held in addition to Friday’s expected vote on the latest coronavirus aid package from the House Democratic leadership.

Last month, hours before Rep. McGovern was set to bring his remote-voting bill before the Rules Committee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled it — announcing the formation of a bipartisan committee to study the matter instead. But that effort fizzled. Now, McGovern is moving ahead with the measure, even as Republican leaders decry it as a “dangerous” plan that “disregards rights of the minority.”

“We must adapt to these extraordinary circumstances,” McGovern said today at a committee markup of the measure, which would allow members to vote by proxy. That would mean any lawmaker working remotely could authorize a colleague in the chamber to vote on their behalf. The temporary rule, which would also allow members to hold hearings and depositions remotely, would expire every 45 days if not renewed, and last no longer than the current session.

“It would be a dereliction of our duty to do nothing,” McGovern said, noting that other local, state and international governments have adopted remote voting rules amidst the pandemic. “The status quo is not going to cut it.”

Lawmakers Tour $3 Trillion HEROES Act, Despite Certain Doom In Senate

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal speaks during a signing ceremony for the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act after it passed the House in April. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal speaks during a signing ceremony for the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act after it passed the House in April. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

House Democrats from New England are celebrating state and local funding provisions included in the latest coronavirus relief package, despite expectations that the legislation will be dead on arrival in the Republican-led Senate.

House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal says the measure would provide nearly $23 billion for the state of Massachusetts alone. Municipalities would also see increased funding, according to the Springfield Democrat.

“The last time around, the money was limited to cities with a population of 500,000 and above,” Neal told reporters yesterday. The new bill adheres to guidelines from the Community Development Block Grant Entitlement Program to determine funding eligibility. “So this means more money for cities and towns across the states,” Neal said.

Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline says his state would receive $5.3 billion in new aid.

Asked why House Democrats are moving forward with a vote on their own bill instead of negotiating with GOP Senate leaders, who say the new relief package is premature, Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes replied, “Are you kidding me?”

“There is not a single person — there is not a single student who is out of school, there is not a single homeless person who is at risk, there is not a single nursing home that doesn’t understand how absolutely essential action is right now,” Himes said. “The question is not, ‘Why now?’ The question is to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and to President Trump, ‘Why wait?’”

The House is expected to vote on the legislation tomorrow.

Pressley, Booker Lead Congressional Call For Civil Rights Probe Into Arbery Shooting

Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 23. (House Television via AP)
Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 23. (House Television via AP)

Dozens of lawmakers have joined Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, in calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a criminal civil rights investigation into the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in southern Georgia. The case sparked a national outcry earlier this month when video emerged of two white men cornering Arbery on a residential street and then shooting and killing him.

“Make no mistake, there cannot be true justice in this case, for in a just America, Mr. Arbery would still be alive,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Eric S. Dreiband, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. “However, his family and this nation demand accountability for Mr. Arbery’s death.”

State and federal investigators say they are gathering evidence in the matter. Last week, in the face of public scrutiny, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, were charged with murder and aggravated assault more than two months after the shooting. Pressley, Booker and the other lawmakers are also calling for an independent investigation of local prosecutors' handling of the case.

3 More Things:

Lawmakers press airlines on consumer protections: Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren are among the co-sponsors of a bill that would require major airlines to refund passengers in cash for tickets canceled amidst the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of whether the cancellations were initiated by the airlines or the passengers. Meanwhile Rep. Joe Kennedy is demanding that United Airlines return the $5 billion in federal aid it received via the Payroll Support Program if the airline goes forward with a plan to eliminate 3,400 jobs in October and convert thousands of other full-time positions to part time — moves Kennedy claims violate the conditions of the program.

Patrick launches new PAC to boost Biden, progressives: “Through this and the next several cycles, TogetherFund will support candidates for federal office and grassroots organizations that will deliver on a progressive agenda,” former Gov. Deval Patrick said in a video announcing the new committee. Those candidates will include presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden, though Patrick doesn’t mention the former vice president by name. The former governor of Massachusetts dropped his own bid for the presidency in February.

Clark, Meng to hold town hall on anti-Asian racism: Reps. Katherine Clark and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., will hold a virtual town hall this evening to discuss the uptick in reported violence and discrimination against people of Asian descent during the coronavirus pandemic. Co-hosted by the Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition, the lawmakers will be joined by local officials, health professionals and community members.


WHAT I'M READING

  • Experts Knew A Pandemic Was Coming. Here’s What They’re Worried About Next. (Politico)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I appreciate your hope, and I wish we could tell the American people that the federal government has this pandemic under control. But we can't.”

-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaking to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force during Tuesday’s remote hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Fauci had said he hoped that adequate federal countermeasures would prevent a deadly resurgence of the virus in the fall.


PARTING NOTE

Boston to the Beltway will take a breather next week. But don’t let your inbox be lonely! Check out some of the other newsletters from my WBUR colleagues and sign up! Three of my current favorites are the Coronavirus Daily, CommonHealth and The Care Package — a perfect combination of information and feel-good content for these trying times.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated what type of political action committee Deval Patrick is starting. It is a traditional PAC. 

Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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