House Republicans push back against proxy voting

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House Republicans are voicing opposition to a rule change to allow lawmakers to vote by proxy amid the coronavirus pandemic, arguing it would limit members’ input in the legislative process and undercut parliamentary tradition.

The influx of pushback to the proposal comes shortly after House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced Monday that he expects a vote on proxy voting this week, which would allow members on the floor to vote in place of their absent colleagues.

Top lawmakers have grappled for weeks over how to move forward on legislation without putting members and staff at risk of catching or spreading the deadly virus, but reluctance over remote voting remains strong within the GOP.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) — who is leading a group of GOP lawmakers in calling for Congress to reopen — said he “couldn’t be more against it,” arguing the current process was put in place for a reason.

“I mean, you can look at all the provisions in place that exist to make sure that we as members of Congress can make it to our votes. Those things were not put into place for no reason,” he told The Hill in an interview. “That’s one of the big overarching points is just the way that our country was set up to operate that I think it now is not the time to break that tradition.”

The Florida Republican, who attempted to speak on the House floor Tuesday but was rebuffed, noted that lawmakers and staff have been impacted by COVID-19, but said he believes there is a way to conduct committee work and hold votes in a way that ensures health risks are minimized.

“Now, there’s a fair acknowledgment that there are some members that have had COVID-19, some members that have some comorbidities that, you know, it’s unwise necessarily for them to be in more of a herd environment. But for the rest of us in the rest of America that have learned how to take better attention to our sanitizing the world around us, washing our hands, having physical barriers between spreading germs, things like that, we can be here doing the work of the people that’s far more urgent than the way that we are approaching it right now.”

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, called the proxy-voting proposal “a complete overreach” by Democrats, noting that Republicans eliminated the practice in 1995.

“We got rid of proxy voting to give every member of Congress the ability to have a voice. And for Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and her lieutenants to decide that they’re going to take advantage of implementing a process like proxy voting to give themselves more power when Congress is still vulnerable right now, to its normal operations — I just think is absurd and I think it silences individual members of Congress who were sent here to cast votes on behalf of our constituents,” he told The Hill.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he returned to Washington to voice his concern at the Rules Committee hearing to advance the rules change, calling it “a terrible idea.”

“The idea that we’re going to now let someone else vote for us because we tell him how to vote — what happens when there’s a procedural motion that comes up? How do you handle that? It’s supposed to be in person in a debate,” he told reporters in the Capitol.

“Because I mean, we’re [a] representative democracy and you need someone there representing the constituents back home and fighting for the positions and issues that you told them you’re going to fight for,” Jordan added.

Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) also said he doesn’t see it as a feasible option and plans to vote “no.”

“I am a ‘no’ until a full set of revised rules and procedures are in place for Congress to function as a legislative body, not a rubber stamp or occasional vote,” he told The Hill.

And the majority of House GOP leaders have expressed reluctance to the idea of bucking regular order.

“We would be opposed to anything that doesn’t go through regular order and think that something that changes 200 years of precedent should be something that’s done in a bipartisan, deliberate way which hasn’t been done here by Democrats,” one GOP leadership aide said.

Hoyer said that any shift to remote voting must be done with Republican buy-in, lest it create the impression that one party will gain some advantage over the other.

“My view, and I’ve expressed this to the Rules Committee, [is] that that decision needs to be made, certainly, at the very least, with consultation with the minority leadership. Because we don’t want that to be perceived as … trying to get some partisan gain,” Hoyer said Tuesday morning on a call with reporters.

Hoyer emphasized that the rules change would apply only to legislation related to the coronavirus crisis, to be used “only in the direst circumstances where it is clear that members cannot — for reasons unrelated to their own convenience or alternative schedules — get to Washington to vote in person.” 

Hoyer also suggested that the adoption of proxy voting is just an “interim” step toward some other form of remote voting in the future.

“So I expect the rule to provide for proxy voting to be used as an interim step — not necessarily the final proposal — and I think there will be discussion about other options to utilize,” he said.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who presided over Tuesday’s pro forma session, emphasized that the shift was temporary, predicting it would receive overwhelming support — at least from Democrats.

“I don’t know any Democrat who is opposed to proxy voting as an emergency measure,” he said. “If there are some, I don’t know who they are.”

While Democrats may face an uphill battle in getting the majority of Republicans on board, multiple GOP lawmakers — including House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP lawmaker in the House, and Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) — have expressed openness to the idea.

It’s unclear if Cheney or Stefanik support the Democratic proposal slated to be brought to the floor.

Davis argued that proxy voting does not equate to remote voting, arguing it’s easier to abuse the system for leaders on both sides of the aisle.

“We can look at different software and programs and go through the process of testing those programs — we can find a bipartisan solution to begin looking at remote voting in the case of a pandemic or in the case of an emergency. But proxy voting is much much different, you’re giving somebody your ability to cast a vote,” he said. “And who’s to say that leadership won’t pressure individual members to give their proxy to them to silence those who may disagree with them in the opposite party or even in their own party.” 

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) is among those who have called for a shift to remote voting. The libertarian-leaning lawmaker previously sparked outrage from members on both sides of the aisle when he forced colleagues to return to Washington for a vote on a record $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill last month.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said in an email that if done properly, he could support the idea of proxy voting.

“I’m OK with proxy voting as long as 1) things go back to normal immediately after this pandemic concludes 2) leadership uses tools available to them to allow members to have a more active role in the legislative process, as Congress is designed 3) we implement maximum transparency so that voters know exactly how their representatives are voting during a historic pandemic,” he wrote.

Tags Brian Mast Coronavirus Elise Stefanik G.K. Butterfield Jim Jordan Liz Cheney Paul Mitchell Proxy voting remote voting Rodney Davis Social distancing Steny Hoyer Thomas Massie

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