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House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes

House lawmakers are bustling to prepare for the chamber’s historic first remote votes this week, with a race on for members to secure proxies, who are limited to representing 10 colleagues each.

Some Democrats who represent districts near the nation's capital are suddenly experiencing a surge in popularity among representatives who can't travel to Washington as easily. 

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Conspiracies? Let's investigate this one FBI investigating whether woman took Pelosi laptop, tried to sell it to Russians MORE (D-Calif.) on Wednesday officially invoked a 45-day period for remote voting and committee work, which can be renewed as necessary as a way to reduce the risk of coronavirus contagion for lawmakers and anyone they come into contact with while the pandemic persists.

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Within 48 hours, Rep. Don Beyer, a Northern Virginia Democrat whose commute to the Capitol is only about a 15-minute drive, had already received nearly the maximum number of requests from colleagues asking if he could serve as their proxy.

Beyer said Friday that he had already agreed to serve as a proxy for nine others, leaving him only one slot to spare.

“It's too bad that we have to have this, but it’s my pleasure to be able to do it for my friends. I know they really want to participate. They want to be on the record,” Beyer told The Hill. “It seems a lot better than just not being able to do the people's work or putting a bunch of people at grave risk.”

Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDemocratic lawmaker says 'assassination party' hunted for Pelosi during riot Sunday shows preview: Washington prepares for an inauguration and impeachment; coronavirus surges across the US House impeaches Trump for second time — with some GOP support MORE, who similarly has a short commute from Takoma Park, Md., is also serving as a proxy for at least three other Democratic lawmakers: Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history Rep. Adriano Espaillat tests positive for COVID-19 Overnight Health Care: Trump admin makes changes to speed vaccinations | CDC to order negative tests for international travelers | More lawmakers test positive after Capitol siege MORE (Wash.), Mark PocanMark William PocanWatch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget Former Progressive Caucus co-chair won't challenge Johnson in 2022 Congressional Progressive Caucus announces new leadership team MORE (Wis.) and Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinForeign adversaries skewer US after Capitol riots Biden taps Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for Labor secretary: report Biden picks leave Democrats with slimmest House majority in modern history MORE (Mich.).

The House is scheduled to meet for two days after Memorial Day to vote on bills to extend government surveillance powers and give small businesses more flexibility while using the loans offered through the Paycheck Protection Program due to the pandemic.

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But the session will also serve the first test for the rules changes that House Democrats adopted earlier this month to create an alternative to their usual gathering closely in the Capitol.

The House clerk’s website has a running list of more than a dozen Democrats already confirmed as planning to vote by proxy: Reps. Gil CisnerosGilbert (Gil) Ray CisnerosMORE (Calif.), Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenHouse Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump Stopping the abuse of the pardon power De Blasio mum on whether he'll block sale of Mets to controversial investor MORE (Tenn.), Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchHouse Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis House Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump This week: Congress poised to buy more time on spending, coronavirus talks MORE (Fla.), Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterHillicon Valley: WhatsApp delays controversial privacy update | Amazon hit with antitrust lawsuit alleging e-book price fixing | Biden launches new Twitter account ahead of inauguration Illinois Democrat calls for new committee focused exclusively on information technology Working together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 MORE (Ill.), Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelHow Congress dismissed women's empowerment Frankel defeats Loomer in Florida House race Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage MORE (Fla.), Vicente Gonzalez (Texas), Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanTrust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Capitol in Chaos | Trump's Arctic refuge drilling sale earns just fraction of GOP prediction | EPA finds fuel efficiency dropped, pollution spiked for 2019 vehicles Trump's sale of Arctic refuge drilling rights earns just a fraction of GOP prediction MORE (Calif.), Jayapal, Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonBlack leaders promote vaccine to help overcome community skepticism The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it DeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair MORE (Texas), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis House impeaches Trump for second time — with some GOP support Stacey Abrams gets kudos for work in Georgia runoff election MORE (Calif.), Levin, Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalLawmakers briefed on 'horrifying,' 'chilling' security threats ahead of inauguration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten key air pollution standards | Despite risks to polar bears, Trump pushes ahead with oil exploration in Arctic | Biden to champion climate action in 2021 Democrats question legality of speedy Arctic refuge oil lease sales MORE (Calif.), Pocan, Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderWhy are millions still flowing into the presidential inauguration? Democrats poised to impeach Trump again Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote MORE (Ore.), Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonNew coalition aims to combat growing wave of ransomware attacks Acting DHS chief Chad Wolf stepping down Security boosted for lawmakers' travel around inauguration: report MORE (Miss.), Marc VeaseyMarc Allison VeaseyThe Memo: Democrats grapple with 'elite' tag Two lawmakers announce bids to succeed Bustos at DCCC Bustos won't seek to chair DCCC again in wake of 2020 results MORE (Texas), Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaCOVID-19 is wild card as Pelosi faces tricky Speaker vote Sunday Democrats try to draft Cardenas to run campaign arm after disappointing night Hispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants MORE (Texas) and Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanBiden scolds Republicans for not wearing masks during Capitol attack The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history Rep. Adriano Espaillat tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (N.J.).

A number of the designated proxies don’t represent districts in the Washington, D.C., region, or even within a few hours driving distance. Schrader and Vela, for instance, have designated Arizona Reps. Tom O’Halleran and Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoThe best way to handle veterans, active-duty military that participated in Capitol riot 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE as their proxies, respectively.

And so far the number of lawmakers making public their plans to vote by proxy are a fraction of the 233-member Democratic caucus — an indication that a majority are still planning to show up to the Capitol despite the risks and logistical difficulties posed by extensive travel.

“It seems like many members are going to try and get back for next week. I think some folks are worried about how it would look to miss the vote,” a Democratic aide said.

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Republicans, meanwhile, remain adamant that lawmakers should be voting in person during the crisis as a way to show solidarity with essential workers who can’t telework.

With the exception of retiring Rep. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyGrowing number of House Republicans warm to proxy voting Lawmakers express concern about lack of young people in federal workforce The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Today: Vaccine distribution starts, Electoral College meets. MORE (R-Fla.), who supports the rules changes and has indicated he plans to use proxy voting, most Republicans are expected to eschew the option.

The rules changes, which were adopted along party lines, state that any lawmakers who vote by proxy are counted toward a quorum.

But Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat would MLK say about Trump and the Republican Party? Biden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party MORE (Ky.), who has made a point of convening the upper chamber over the last few weeks, argue that only in-person presence should count toward a quorum and warn that anything otherwise could run counter to the Constitution.

“I would doubt seriously if [Democrats] brought a major piece of legislation onto the floor without 218 people in the Capitol complex,” House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse GOP lawmaker: Trump 'put all of our lives at risk' Scalise labels Capitol rioting 'domestic terrorism' Tensions flare between House Republicans, Capitol Police over metal detectors MORE (R-La.) told The Hill. “It’s more concern for Pelosi because it does raise the question of credibility of a bill passing if there are fewer than a majority of members there.”

Democrats reject that argument and point to legal precedent determining that each chamber of Congress has discretion over how to conduct its proceedings.

“Remote voting by proxy is fully consistent with the Constitution and more than a century of legal precedent, including Supreme Court cases, that make clear that the House can determine its own rules,” Pelosi said in a statement. 

Furthermore, there is historical precedent for proxy voting in House and Senate committees. Proxy voting in House committees was used until Republicans under then-Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.) ended it in the 1990s, but the practice is still allowed in Senate committees.

The House is setting a new precedent, however, in allowing proxy voting on the floor. 

Under the new rules, members voting by proxy must provide exact written instructions for each vote, including any unexpected procedural votes. The votes of lawmakers voting by proxy will also be announced from the floor during each vote. 

“Perhaps if in the next hundred years there's another crisis, we'll have precedent and know how to go forward,” Beyer said.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.