The House is set to begin a historic new proxy voting procedure on Wednesday that will let lawmakers cast votes for absent lawmakers, a prospect opposed by Republicans.
The House passed the resolution earlier this month allowing lawmakers unable to travel to Washington, D.C., to designate another representative as a proxy to cast votes on their behalf for the first time in its 200-year history.
The measure passed by a vote of 217-189 and received no support from Republican lawmakers.
On Wednesday, the House will implement the policy for the first time as lawmakers prepare to vote on several non-coronavirus measures, including an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under the temporary policy change, no lawmaker may hold more than 10 proxies.
The House has not returned from its coronavirus-imposed recess in March, while the Senate returned earlier this month with restrictions. The House implemented the new policy over concerns the pandemic restrictions might severely impact its ability to function, as there are more than 400 House members compared to just 100 in the Senate.
Proxy voting is designed to enable lawmakers to conduct legislative business if they are unable to be physically present in Washington, D.C., whether it be due to illness, transportation trouble or another coronavirus-related issue.
At least 60 House Democrats have designated a proxy ahead of Wednesday’s votes, but no Republican has done so. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and 20 other GOP lawmakers filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the proxy voting method as unconstitutional.
“This is not simply arcane parliamentary procedure. It is a brazen violation of the Constitution, a dereliction of our duty as elected officials and would silence the American people’s voice during a crisis,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said. “Although I wish this matter could have been solved on a bipartisan basis, the stakes are too high to let this injustice go unaddressed.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the lawsuit as a “sad stunt” and accused Republicans of trying to delay and obstruct legislation that would be helpful to Americans at a time of crisis.
“The House made its will clear two weeks ago when it voted to implement remote voting by proxy and other necessary measures to ensure that Congress can continue to protect lives and livelihoods,” she said. “The House’s position that remote voting by proxy during a pandemic is fully consistent with the Constitution is supported by legal analyses.
“Further, the Supreme Court made clear over a century ago that the Constitution empowers each chamber of Congress to set its own procedural rules.”
Proxy voting in the House is a temporary measure and must again be authorized after a 45-day period.
The House has never before allowed proxy voting on the chamber floor, but used to permit proxy voting in committee as recently as 1995.
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