House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting

House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting
© Greg Nash

A House GOP lawmaker broke with his party on Monday to back the recently adopted change to the chamber's rules that allow for a form of remote voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyBipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to limit further expansion of 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Republicans boot Francis Rooney from GOP Steering Committee Pelosi extends proxy voting into mid-August MORE (R-Fla.) was absent during the vote on Friday to allow proxy voting, in which lawmakers unable to be at the Capitol in person can authorize colleagues to cast votes on their behalf. But Rooney said in a pair of tweets that "the House was right" to adopt the rules changes to allow proxy voting and virtual committee meetings to minimize the risk of contagion.

"The House was right to pass H.Res. 967, to allow for proxy and remote voting on a temporary basis to ensure the safety of its members, staff, & support personnel that work within the Capitol Hill complex. We are still in the midst of a serious, global pandemic," Rooney wrote.

"[Congress] should utilize all options for conducting business. Proxy/remote voting allows for distancing/following of proper health procedures. We have important work to do over the coming months & it cannot be delayed; however, it isn’t necessary to put people at risk in the process," Rooney continued.

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The House adopted the rules changes on a party-line vote on Friday, with not a single Republican joining Democrats in support. Three Democrats – Reps. Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenDemocrats fear US already lost COVID-19 battle Republicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting MORE (Wash.), Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaHouse panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate Republican Scott Taylor wins Virginia primary, to face Elaine Luria in rematch National Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus MORE (Va.) and Tom O'Halleran (Ariz.) – voted against the resolution.

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Rooney, who is retiring, had previously called for the House to find ways to conduct its business virtually during the pandemic instead of making lawmakers and staff gather in person in the Capitol.

"We are in a serious, global pandemic and Congress should utilize modern technology to permit remote voting. Votes on spending and response to the pandemic are critical and will need quick action," Rooney said in a statement on March 19. "The work of Congress must continue, but it need not put people at risk unnecessarily."

A spokesman confirmed that Rooney intends to use the proxy voting system for future House votes during the pandemic. Rooney would have voted for the rules changes had he been present in the Capitol on Friday. 

House Republicans otherwise broadly opposed the rules changes, arguing that lawmakers should still be showing up to the Capitol to vote in person. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyCongress under pressure to provide billions for school openings Supreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress The Hill's Campaign Report: Florida's coronavirus surge raises questions about GOP convention MORE (R-Calif.) and the top Republicans on the Rules and Administration committees, Reps. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeBipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to limit further expansion of 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Democrats sidestep budget deal by seeking 0B in emergency spending Cheney clashes with Trump MORE (Okla.) and Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases MORE (Ill.) had instead called for reconvening in person with some new safety measures, like installing plexiglass on committee daises.

While McCarthy, Cole and Davis expressed support for "hybrid" committee hearings – a practice already adopted by the GOP-controlled Senate in the last two weeks – they urged against allowing lawmakers to vote on legislation in committee or on the floor remotely.

Democrats incorporated some of the GOP proposals into the rules changes after weeks of bipartisan discussions, but argued that those suggestions alone were insufficient.

In addition to allowing proxy voting and committee hearings, markups and depositions by videoconference, the resolution adopted on Friday authorizes the House Administration Committee to study the feasibility of remote voting using technology.

A single lawmaker is limited to serving as a proxy for up to 10 colleagues, meaning that at least some will still have to show up to the House chamber in person. Any lawmakers who want to cast their own votes as usual can still do so.

The rules changes can only be in effect for 45 days at a time once Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBattle over reopening schools heats up Pelosi: Trump wearing a mask is 'an admission' that it can stop spread of coronavirus Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to reopening schools MORE (D-Calif.) invokes the authority after receiving notification from the sergeant-at-arms and Capitol physician that there is a public health emergency due to the coronavirus. The authority for proxy voting and virtual committee work could be renewed if needed.

Conservative Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieBiggs, Massie call on Trump to remove troops from Afghanistan Massie wins House GOP primary despite Trump call to be ousted from party Rep. Massie called out by primary opponent for previous display of Confederate flag MORE (R-Ky.) – who drew fierce ire from both parties in March for demanding a roll call vote instead of allowing a coronavirus relief bill to pass by voice vote – said Friday that he potentially could have supported the rules changes if they were invoked by a House vote instead of a determination by Pelosi.

“I can drive [to the Capitol]. That option is not open to everybody. So that's why I've taken the position that you should allow remote voting or proxy voting for the people that can't get here. But we shouldn't do it in a way that makes the Speaker and the bureaucracy more powerful,” Massie told The Hill.