Why it will take an act of Congress for lawmakers to work from home

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Congress can't follow public health guidelines and get its work done. An Ohio lawmaker plans to change that.

Lawmakers consider re-writing historical rules to allow them to work from home during coronavirus outbreak (Source: Gray DC)

As lawmakers work to craft public policy to combat coronavirus they're jeopardizing their own health and risk spreading the invisible killer even further. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tested positive for the virus this weekend. Utah's senators came in close contact with him, and are now self-isolating as well.

Four other GOP senators stepped away as a precaution previously; two have returned.

But it will take an act of Congress to allow lawmakers to work from home.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the country is counting on Congress during a recent call with the press.

"We have to stay here to get this work done," he said.

Failing to act quickly and decisively to contain this coronavirus could cost countless Americans their lives and financial security.

But many of those still in Congress are among the most vulnerable Americans and coming in closer contact with others than they should. Those who are absent are leaving their constituents without a voice.

"There should be a way for the congressional branch, the legislative branch to continue to operate, even if we cannot be gathering here in Washington," said Portman.

Legislative staffers are largely working from home. But lawmakers can't mail or phone-in their votes.

Portman first suggested a remote-voting option in times of national emergency shortly after 9/11. The idea resurfaced in both chambers earlier this month.

"That is such an interesting idea," said Mark Rom, a political science professor with the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

We caught up with Rom as he worked from home. He said while technology doesn't stand in the way as it may have in the past, lawmakers don't generally vote in favor of breaking from tradition.

"Whether they will be willing and eager to move in that direction, I'm a little bit doubtful about that," he said.

While there is bipartisan support for the idea, thus far, it's not getting traction with Democratic leaders in the House, or Republicans in control of the Senate.

But, with absences now directly impacting how Congress responds to the virus - that may change.

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