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 PelosiSupreme Court expands religious rights with trio of rulings Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits Democrats see victory in Trump culture war 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 RaskinDemocrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote 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 JayapalDemocrats fear US already lost COVID-19 battle Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down MORE (Wash.), Mark PocanMark William PocanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 Steyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary Celebrities fundraise for Markey ahead of Massachusetts Senate primary MORE (Wis.) and Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinUS, Mexico set for new post-NAFTA trade era House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Warren, Levin introduce legislation for federal contact tracing program 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 CohenPelosi throws cold water on impeaching Barr Justice Department officials say decisions are politicized Congress must act on police reform, don't let opponents divert the conversation MORE (Tenn.), Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchThe 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 US lawmakers call on EU to label entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization 189 House Democrats urge Israel to 'reconsider' annexation MORE (Fla.), Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterFormer Obama Ebola czar Ron Klain says White House's bad decisions have put US behind many other nations on COVID-19; Fears of virus reemergence intensify Overnight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader Top Democrats demand answers on Trump administration's 'unfathomable' consideration of nuclear testing MORE (Ill.), Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelFormer cop Demings faces progressive pushback in veepstakes Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes MORE (Fla.), Vicente Gonzalez (Texas), Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Overnight Energy: Biden campaign says he would revoke Keystone XL permit | EPA emails reveal talks between Trump officials, chemical group before 2017 settlement | Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings MORE (Calif.), Jayapal, Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic Americans must have confidence federal agencies are using the best available science to confront coronavirus MORE (Texas), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal It's time to eliminate land-based nuclear missiles Stronger patent rights would help promote US technological leadership MORE (Calif.), Levin, Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalOvernight Energy: EPA declines to regulate chemical tied to developmental damage | Democrats unveil .5T infrastructure plan | Land management bureau eases requirements for oil, gas royalty cut requests Land management bureau lessens requirements for oil and gas royalty cut requests Police unions face lobbying fights at all levels of government MORE (Calif.), Pocan, Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes The 14 Democrats who broke with their party on coronavirus relief vote House votes to condemn Trump Medicaid block grant policy MORE (Ore.), Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonState legislatures consider US Capitol's Confederate statues House eyes votes to remove symbols of Confederates from Capitol House to vote on removing bust of Supreme Court justice who wrote Dred Scott ruling MORE (Miss.), Marc VeaseyMarc Allison VeaseyChinese tech giants caught up in rising US-China tensions House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Hillicon Valley: Uber lays off 3,000 | FBI unlocks Pensacola shooter's phones | Lawmakers introduce bill restricting purchase of airline equipment from Chinese companies MORE (Texas), Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaHispanic Caucus asks Trump to rescind invitation to Mexican president The Hill's Coronavirus Report: CDC predicts US death toll could reach 145,000 by July 11; Premier President Michael Alkire says more resiliency needed in health supply chain House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes MORE (Texas) and Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman wins Democratic primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Primary Day in New Jersey 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 GallegoHouse panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - As virus concerns grow, can it get worse for Trump? Latino man's death in Tucson fuels debate over police brutality on Hispanics 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 RooneyRepublicans boot Francis Rooney from GOP Steering Committee Pelosi extends proxy voting into mid-August What to do about our culture of division and partisanship? 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 McConnellLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Teacher's union puts million behind ad demanding funding for schools preparing to reopen 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 ScaliseCheney clashes with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up 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.