Democrats push proxy voting amid coronavirus relief battle
“I’m confident we’re going to pass the Heroes Act,” Hoyer said in an interview with POLITICO. “We’re talking to members — I talked to a lot of members yesterday, myself. Whip Clyburn is now counting.”
A group of 13 House committee chairs sent a letter late Tuesday night reiterating their support for the Heroes Act, saying, “ Lives are on the line, and time is of the essence…We urge you to support the legislation and to be present on Friday.”
Under the Democratic rules change, a lawmaker could only serve as a “designated proxy” for up to 10 members. And that lawmaker must receive and follow “exact written instruction” on how their colleagues want to vote on any procedure, from individual amendments to final passage of legislation. Hoyer said those precautions are being taken to address GOP concerns that lawmakers voting by proxy for other members could just vote how they wanted, even possibly against the absent member’s wishes.
“There’s still reservations the minority has as to whether this could work and work accurately,” Hoyer said. “This neither advantages the majority nor disadvantages the minority. This is simply to replicate what we can do in person but are precluded from doing by an extrinsic force.”
Proxy voting was allowed in committees until Republicans banned the practice following their 1994 takeover of the House.
Democrats would also allow committees to hold remote hearings, markups and depositions. But Hoyer said House panels would start with hearings first to ease members into the change and get them comfortable with the remote technology before voting on legislation in committee.
The change would be temporary, permitted only for 45 day-periods during the pandemic that has made the U.S. Capitol unsafe for members and aides to gather. The rule will only cover the 116th Congress, which ends in January.
But the Democratic proposal could eventually include a path to remote floor voting for all members. Democrats have tasked the House Administration Committee — chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) — to “study the feasibility” of the idea. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and senior Republicans have opposed that option, and Pelosi has signaled that she doesn’t like it either.
The looming rules change vote comes three weeks after Pelosi hit pause on a similar plan, backed only by Democrats, in an effort to bring Republicans on board.
Hoyer said despite three meetings and multiple calls with McCarthy, the two sides weren’t able to come to a bipartisan deal. Democrats, however, did incorporate some Republican ideas into their final proposal, which Hoyer said the House would only use for extreme emergencies, such as the current pandemic.
“Neither the speaker, nor I, nor McCarthy…believe that there’s any substitute for in-person participation,” Hoyer said, adding the leaders all agree it should only be used in the “rarest of instances.”
“I can’t think of any event that’s happened in the 40 years that I’ve been in the Congress…in which this would have been utilized, not even after 9/11,” he added.
Democrats are making their commitment to allowing proxy voting nearly two months after Pelosi instructed Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) to study the issue of remote voting, a timeline that some members complained took too long amid the pandemic.
Many lawmakers had demanded an update to the House’s rules after a frenetic scene in late March, when a single GOP lawmaker, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, forced hundreds of members to rush back to Washington to prevent him from blocking the passage of a $2 trillion relief package.
“Legislating nearly always involves physically gathering together in one place, but if nothing else the world has learned over these past few difficult months that people need to be able to do their work in novel ways in times of emergency,” McGovern wrote in a letter to his colleagues on Wednesday.
The White House and Republican leaders in both chambers are opposed to the latest Democratic coronavirus package, arguing that not enough time has passed after Congress approved its last package, which was roughly half a trillion dollars. Democrats have crafted the $3 trillion package without input from either.
Congress has already approved $3 trillion in emergency spending and tax cuts in the roughly two months since the start of the pandemic.