House moves to allow remote voting and virtual hearings

WASHINGTON (CN) — House leadership unveiled plans Wednesday that would allow members to cast votes by proxy and committees to conduct remote work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan released by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren and House Rules Committee Chair James McGovern will allow members to designate another lawmaker as a proxy for floor votes held during the pandemic. Members must send a letter to the clerk formally designating their proxy and will give detailed written instructions on how the proxy is to vote.

Each member can be a proxy for as many as 10 of their colleagues, dramatically lowering the number of members who might need to come to the House floor during votes.

House leadership has set up a Friday vote on adopting the changes.

The measure, known as House Resolution 965, comes three weeks after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi shelved a proxy voting plan as Republicans objected to the idea and called for the House to return to Washington.

The Democratic leaders behind the new proposal said it includes some ideas from Republicans, though a bipartisan working group was unable to reach a consensus.

“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,” Hoyer, Lofgren and McGovern said in a joint statement. “The time has come to act — further delay is not an option.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., along with Representatives Tom Cole and Rodney Davis, who serve as the top Republicans on the House Rules and House Administration Committees respectively, condemned the plan Wednesday.

They said the measure would “forever alter our democratic institution for the worse” and leave too many lawmakers out of the process of crafting legislation before it hits the House floor.

“It facilitates only legislative theater while enabling the most significant power grab in the history of Congress, leaving our constituents’ voices shut out of the real lawmaking process,” McCarthy, Cole and Davis said in a joint statement.

In addition to proxy voting, the newly unveiled measure also allows House committees to conduct virtual meetings during the pandemic. The proposal would count lawmakers who appear at hearings remotely towards a quorum, allowing committees to markup legislation without all members needing to come to the hearing room.

The changes would initially be in place for 45 days and Pelosi would have authority to extend the new procedures so long as the coronavirus pandemic presents a public health emergency.

The resolution also requires the House Administration Committee to conduct a study on whether the House could vote remotely through secure technology. If the committee finds there is a suitable method of voting remotely using technology, Pelosi could allow members to cast their vote using that method during a public health emergency related to the coronavirus.

The House has largely been out of Washington for two months, though it has approved more than $2.5 trillion in coronavirus response funding during that time. Republicans, who have said the process leaves major pieces of legislation to be negotiated behind closed doors with only a handful of members, have forced formal votes on the packages, sending lawmakers scrambling back to Washington to cast votes.