The House of Representatives, for the first time in 231 years of history, allows its members to vote without being physically present on the floor, a decision Republicans deem unnecessary.
On Friday evening, the Democratic-led House approved a resolution temporarily changing its rules to allow designated members to vote other members as directed by absent lawmakers. The measure was adopted by 217-189, according to preliminary accounts. While proxy voting has been allowed in House committees in the past, the change allows for tiered votes for the first time.
House Democrats say the change is needed to allow the chamber to resume operations on a near-normal basis during the coronavirus pandemic, while preventing lawmakers from risking becoming ill from the virus. Republicans say it goes too far and other less drastic changes could be made while keeping members safe.
Ahead of Friday’s vote, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee, said the change would set a precedent that could be misused later. He also said it raised legal issues.
“Switching to any other type of procedure involving members not being physically present in the chamber to vote and to establish a quorum will expose the legislation adopted by these methods to legal challenges,” he said at the meeting. committee meeting Thursday.
In a statement Wednesday with two other GOP lawmakers, Parliamentary Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, Cole went further, saying the change “uniquely facilitates legislative theater while allowing the largest takeover in congressional history, leaving the voices of our constituents excluded from the real legislative process.
“We can’t put this genius back in the bottle,” said GOP Representative Rob Woodall of Georgia.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, during his appearance before the committee, said the change was needed to ensure the House can function, especially if the pandemic escalates in the fall. But the Maryland Democrat said it also reflected technological developments not anticipated by the founding fathers.
“None of us arrived on horseback and buggy today,” he said. “This is to make sure that the United States Congress can act even though it cannot bring its members into a particular room, including the House chamber.”
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The proxy authority is expected to be available for 45 days and could be renewed for an additional 45 days by the Speaker of the House “in consultation” with others, including the minority leader. Members should receive written permission to vote from others, which would also be posted publicly. A member would be limited to having only 10 proxies at a time.
The change also allows proxies to count for the purposes of declaring a quorum in the House, a big concern for Republicans. Hoyer said a previous change, the practice of allowing certain non-controversial cases to be conducted by unanimous consent, with only two members in the chamber, arose out of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.
In addition, the resolution allows committees to meet and vote on legislation remotely and provides for the head of the House administration committee to certify the technology allowing remote voting on the House floor and bring it into play. square. The latter point, because the decision would be made by one person, also raised Republican concerns.
Republicans had proposed a slower, phased approach, with committees returning to Washington, DC, first to work on priority legislation and only calling votes back to the entire House after several bills were ready to go. be voted on.
Proxy voting was allowed in committees before being banned with the 104th Congress when Republicans won the midterm elections in 1994, but was never allowed for floor votes.
On Friday night, the House was also due to vote by party to approve a $ 3 trillion coronavirus aid package. The sweeping measure represents the Democrats’ initial offer in negotiations over Washington’s next response to the crisis.
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This is an updated version of a report first published on May 14, 2020.