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 Rooney (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.

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 Larsen (Wash.), Elaine Luria (Va.) and Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.) – voted against the resolution.

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 McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the top Republicans on the Rules and Administration committees, Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.) and Rodney Davis (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 Pelosi (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 Massie (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.

Tags Elaine Luria Francis Rooney Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi Rick Larsen Rodney Davis Thomas Massie Tom Cole Tom O'Halleran

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