Democratic House leaders plan vote next week on allowing proxy voting during pandemic

Democratic House leaders plan vote next week on allowing proxy voting during pandemic
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House Democratic leaders told lawmakers on Monday that they plan to hold a vote next week on proposed rules changes to allow a form of remote voting during the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of whether Republicans get on board.

According to a Democratic aide, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi70 progressive groups call for next Foreign Affairs chair to reflect 'progressive realism' House to vote next week on ridding Capitol of Confederate statues Eye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending MORE (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton Hoyer70 progressive groups call for next Foreign Affairs chair to reflect 'progressive realism' House to vote next week on ridding Capitol of Confederate statues Overnight Defense: US formally rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims | House set to consider defense policy bill next week | 57 injured as firefighters battle warship blaze MORE (D-Md.) told the Democratic caucus on a conference call that they expect to vote on allowing proxy voting, in which absent lawmakers can authorize other lawmakers physically present in the Capitol to cast votes on their behalf.

Democratic leaders initially planned to vote on the rules change last week while the House was in session to vote on an interim $484 billion coronavirus relief package for small-business loans and hospitals. But Democrats decided to reverse course in response to opposition from Republicans who argued that lawmakers should be voting in person like other essential workers across the country who can't work remotely.

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Hoyer has since been in bipartisan discussions with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthy4 Texas GOP congressional primary runoffs to watch Congress under pressure to provide billions for school openings Supreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress MORE (R-Calif.) and leaders of the Rules and Administration committees about a path forward on how the House can resume its business.

Many Democrats have been pushing leadership to find ways for the House to conduct its business remotely as they grow frustrated with being unable to hold committee hearings to grill Trump administration officials about the pandemic response or cast more votes on bills. At the same time, lawmakers remain worried about risking contagion by traveling back to Washington from all over the country and then congregating in large groups in the Capitol.

The original proposal unveiled last week by House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) would have allowed proxy voting and virtual committee proceedings, including hearings and markups of legislation. The resolution would have also directed a study on how to use technology so lawmakers could participate in floor debate remotely.

Hoyer also announced on the caucus call that the House will reconvene next Monday as scheduled, hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell in talks with Mnuchin on next phase of coronavirus relief Pelosi: 'We shouldn't even be thinking' about reopening schools without federal aid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - All eyes on Florida as daily COVID-19 cases hit 15K MORE (R-Ky.) confirmed that the upper chamber will return on the same date.

The House and Senate have been out of session for most of the last several weeks due to social distancing measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Washington, D.C., still has a stay-at-home order in place through at least May 15.

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The announcements that Congress will reconvene before the capital city has lifted its restrictions drew some consternation from lawmakers. Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOn The Money: Businesses plead for states to enforce mask mandates | Trump tax returns unlikely before November | June deficit sets record at 4 billion Eye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending House panel advances bill banning construction on bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Fla.) called it “dangerous” for the House to come back into session next week, making the case that some members have families to take care of and can’t come to Washington for weeks at a time, according to a source on Monday's call.

The House most recently convened en masse on Thursday to vote on an interim coronavirus relief package. House officials established new safety protocols for the votes, including staggering the number of lawmakers in the chamber at a time by alphabetical order and advising everyone to wear masks.

Democrats maintain that they hope to reach an agreement with Republicans on a virtual House, but signaled their patience is running thin. 

McGovern warned in a Washington Post op-ed published Monday that the “status quo has become unacceptable and dangerous — not just to members of Congress, but more importantly, to everyone we come in contact with.”

“I have always believed that whenever possible, any changes to House rules should be bipartisan. I still believe that today,” McGovern wrote. “Inaction, however, is simply not an option. The need to adapt is urgent.”

Earlier Monday, a group of House Democrats urged leaders to commit to a vote on allowing remote voting and virtual committee proceedings next week even if they can't get Republicans to endorse the changes.

"While we hope a bipartisan agreement with Republican leadership that results in temporary remote capabilities on the floor and in committees can be reached in the coming days, if House Republican leadership does not engage on this matter in a constructive way, we must move forward," members of the New Democrat Coalition wrote in a letter.

"As we urge the public to observe social distancing practices, comply with shelter-in-place orders, and telework as much as possible, Congress must adapt itself to the public health threat our nation faces," they added.

Other legislatures around the U.S. and the world have changed their practices in recent weeks to conduct legislative business remotely. The New Jersey and Pennsylvania state legislatures changed their rules to allow voting by conference call and video conference, while the European Parliament allowed its members to cast votes by email. And last week, the U.K. Parliament began limiting the number of members physically present for debates while allowing others to participate by Zoom.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed. Updated at 8:43 p.m.