House Democrats Move Ahead with Proxy Voting

May 13, 2020 Updated: May 14, 2020

Contrary to the House bipartisan task force’s efforts to reach a compromise, Democrats will, for the second time, try to change the House rules to allow members to vote by proxy and let committees use technology to hold virtual business meetings.

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Committee on House Administration Chairperson Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Rules Committee Chairman Rep. James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) said in a joint statement Wednesday that they tried to reach a full compromise with Republican members but they were not able to satisfy the members who want Congress to be present on Capitol Hill during the pandemic.

The lawmakers said they incorporated some of the suggestions the Republican leadership outlined.

“While we could not come to an agreement, we have incorporated several Republican ideas into this resolution. We will now move forward on these temporary emergency procedures to ensure the House can continue fully working for the people during this public health and economic emergency. The time has come to act—further delay is not an option.”

The 13-page resolution (pdf) initially introduced by House Rules Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) in April was not designed by the bipartisan task force and the content of which is largely what the House will be voting on.

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday: “Nancy Pelosi is about to launch the most significant power grab in the history of Congress. ‘Voting by proxy’ runs counter to 200-years of House rules and the Constitution itself.”

In an April 22 statement, McGovern said he was hopeful for a compromise on how Congress could do its job safely during the pandemic.

“I have always said that I prefer changes to House procedure to be done in a bipartisan and collaborative way. I’m grateful that the discussions that have taken place over the past few weeks have now led to this bipartisan effort. I’m hopeful that this formal working group can come to an agreement on changes that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on.”

There are many House Republicans that want Congress to convene on Capitol Hill, and just apply physical distancing health guidelines instead of virtual proceedings.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) suggested that proxy voting was irresponsible. “On Friday, they’ll change House rules to allow proxy voting. If truckers, farmers, grocers, and healthcare workers are showing up to work, then Congress should too!” he wrote on Twitter.

The proxy voting resolution (pdf) being considered on Thursday, would authorize House committees to hold virtual hearings, markups, and depositions using software approved as secure for remote participation.

Committee leaders would have the option to hold the formal proceedings online or in a hearing room with some lawmakers on-site and others working remotely, in a model that the Senate has used during the pandemic.

The proposed change to House rules would allow an absent lawmaker to appoint a colleague to vote on House floor matters on their behalf.

House members would send an electronic letter to the clerk to authorize another member to vote on their behalf, providing exact instruction on how to vote on each question on the floor, if they could not be present.

Members willing to vote in person on their own behalf could still do so. Members physically present would be eligible to cast votes on behalf of their colleagues, with a member limited to serving as a designated proxy for a maximum of 10 members. The limit addresses concerns of proxies holding too much power.

The clerk’s office would be required to post a list of designated proxies on its website, and members participating via proxy would be printed in the Congressional Record.

The plans are temporarily for 45 days and could be renewed/amended for the remainder of this Congress, dependent on pandemic public health warnings.

Democrats said that in addition to the immediate threat of the coronavirus pandemic, warnings from public health officials about a possible resurgence of the virus in the fall are driving the proxy vote effort.

Correction: The article has been updated to correct the party affiliation of Rep. Kevin McCarthy. The Epoch Times regrets the error.