Looking for ways to do legislative business without exposing members and staff to the Coronavirus, House Democrats pushed through a rules change on Friday to allow members to vote on the House floor even if they aren't present on Capitol Hill, and okayed the use of remote hearings to conduct committee business during a pandemic.
"The House has the constitutional authority to institute remote voting by proxy," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the chair of the powerful House Rules Committee.
Democrats said the rules changes would allow them to more easily perform the work of Congress, and not have lawmakers spreading the Coronavirus around the country by going back and forth to Washington, D.C.
"My office in Miami is not getting calls," said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL). "We're getting cries for help."
The remote voting change - a first in the history of the House - was roundly denounced by Republicans as anti-democratic.
Our health care providers, first responders, and grocers report to work each day. Why can't Members of Congress? Proxy voting is counter to our elected purpose and our Nation's principles. We must return to Congress for in-person voting, the way we were elected to operate.— Rep. Mark Green (@RepMarkGreen) May 15, 2020
"The Democrats’ plan to implement proxy voting destroys 200 years of precedent," said Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX). "The American people elected us to represent them, not stay at home and give their vote away."
"These are strange times," said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), who labeled the plan from Democrats, "the single largest rules change the House of Representatives have seen in any of our lifetimes."
"Today we are in fact suspending the Constitution," argued Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). "We are allowing proxies to establish a quorum and do the business of the American people."
"Today is a dark day in the history of our country," said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC).
But Democrats countered the plan would not only allow for remote voting to keep lawmakers safe, but let committee work proceed as well.
I'm back in DC today to take 2️⃣ important votes on:— Rep. Lois Frankel (@RepLoisFrankel) May 15, 2020
Proxy voting, so the House can continue to work #ForThePeople through the #COVID19 pandemic,
The #HeroesAct, which will provide critical aid to those impacted by #Coronavirus.
More updates to come! pic.twitter.com/uT81YipXi0
"We need a more comprehensive, full, e-Congress capability," said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI).
The Senate has tweaked its rules to allow for video hookups during hearings, but has not taken the next step to remote voting.
Under this new House plan, hearings could be done remotely, as well as committee work on bills known as markups.
On the House floor, members could give their 'proxy' to another lawmaker to vote a specific way, as directed in a letter.
No member could direct more than 10 proxy votes.