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Dozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House

Dozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House
© Greg Nash

Dozens of House Democrats are planning to vote remotely this week for the first time in the chamber's history amid concerns about the health risks involved with traveling to Washington.

At least 59 lawmakers are planning to vote by proxy, or designate a colleague physically present in the Capitol to cast votes on their behalf, according to a list published by the House clerk's office Tuesday. Last week, just 18 were on the list.

Democrats representing districts in the Washington, D.C., suburbs are the most popular proxies, given their proximity to the Capitol.

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Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden officials brace for worst despite vaccine data Political fireworks fuel DC statehood hearing Democrats vow to go 'bold' — with or without GOP MORE (D-Md.) — whose commutes from home are now about 15 to 20 minutes by car — told The Hill they have each received proxy requests from nine colleagues, close to the maximum of 10 that they can accept.

"It's a lot of pressure," Raskin said Tuesday. "Usually I just have to get to the floor to vote for myself. Now I've got to get to the floor to vote for up to 10 people."

The number of lawmakers on the list published by the House clerk's office is likely to grow into Wednesday, when the chamber is expected to vote on legislation to give more flexibility for small businesses using loans from the Paycheck Protection Program.

The House Rules Committee has advised lawmakers to submit their letters designating proxies to the clerk's office at least two hours before the first vote. Members planning to vote by proxy must also provide specific written instructions for each vote.

So far, all of the lawmakers planning to vote by proxy are Democrats.

House Republicans, meanwhile, are encouraging their members to come to the Capitol in person and forgo the new proxy voting system. Any members who can't make it to the Capitol are being asked to submit statements for the record instead, according to a GOP aide.

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The House adopted the rules changes earlier this month to allow proxy voting and for committees to conduct hearings and markups by video conference during the pandemic. The House Administration Committee has also been authorized to study the feasibility of remote voting using technology.

The new rules were adopted along party lines with no Republicans voting in support.

One Republican, retiring Rep. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyRepublican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC A party of ideas, not a cult of personality Growing number of House Republicans warm to proxy voting MORE (Fla.), later expressed support for the rules changes and indicated he would have voted in favor of them if he had been present in the Capitol that day.

But it's unclear whether Rooney will use the proxy voting system this week. A spokesman didn't immediately return a request for comment.

Republicans have been resistant to changing House rules to allow remote voting, arguing that lawmakers should show up in person like essential workers.

"Americans expect their elected representatives to be in D.C. to do the people’s business. We expect our 1st responders, our medical personnel, our truck drivers, our grocery store employees to show up for jobs in our communities. Why are Members of Congress any different?" tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus.

Most House members from both parties have complied with guidance from the Capitol physician to wear masks, but the handful who didn't during the most recent votes on coronavirus measures were all conservative Republicans.

Democrats maintain they are following advice from the Capitol physician to hold off on resuming extended House sessions due to the Washington, D.C., region's number of coronavirus cases.

"The idea that this would become some kind of macho test is obscene," Raskin said. "If we have colleagues who show up and refuse to wear a mask in public again, they definitely should have stayed home."

Despite the list of Democrats planning to vote by proxy growing by the hour, it still amounts to a fraction of the 233-member caucus.

Unlike Beyer and Raskin, several other Democrats designated as proxies don't live within a few hours' driving distance from the Capitol. That suggests many from across the country still plan to vote in person despite the available option to vote by proxy.

Arizona Reps. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoMcCarthy asks FBI, CIA for briefing after two men on terror watchlist stopped at border The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Back to the future on immigration, Afghanistan, Iran Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions MORE and Tom O'Halleran will both be serving as proxies, as will California Reps. Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaModerate Democrats warn leaders against meddling in Iowa race Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19 An attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation MORE, Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanBiden funding decision inflames debate over textbooks for Palestinian refugees Iran talks set up delicate dance for Biden team Biden can build on Pope Francis's visit to Iraq MORE, Linda Sánchez, Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiHillicon Valley: Grid security funding not included in Biden's infrastructure plan | Russia fines Twitter | Lawmakers call for increased school cybersecurity Lawmakers urge Education Department to take action to defend schools from cyber threats Hillicon Valley: House approves almost billion in cyber, tech funds as part of relief package | Officials warn of 'widespread' exploit of Microsoft vulnerabilities | Facebook files to dismiss antitrust lawsuits MORE and Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarDemocrats rush to Biden's defense on border surge House Democrats open to making proxy voting the 'new normal' House vote on COVID-19 relief expected by Wednesday MORE. Many will be serving as proxies for members of their home state delegations who are opting not to travel.

Many of the lawmakers voting by proxy hail from the West Coast. At least 19 from California alone are voting by proxy.

Others have been recently sidelined by health issues, such as Reps. Mark DeSaulnierMark James DeSaulnierOvernight Health Care: CDC says three feet of distance safe in schools | Surging COVID-19 cases in Europe, Brazil signal warning for US | Biden jabs Trump in first visit to CDC Democrats unveil bill to prevent members of the Sackler family from evading lawsuits through bankruptcy Bipartisan group of lawmakers backs bill 'to save local news' MORE (D-Calif.), who recently spent almost five weeks in the intensive care unit due to a running accident, and John LewisJohn LewisDemocrats face mounting hurdles to agenda Democrats see opportunity as states push new voting rules Lobbying world MORE (D-Ga.), who revealed late last year that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. People with underlying health conditions or over the age of 65 are considered to be particularly vulnerable to developing more serious complications from the coronavirus.

Democratic leaders are also offering members assistance with coordinating proxy pairings.

"If by any chance you are not going to be here and you want assistance with proxy [voting] and if you informed us of that, then we will get a proxy for you," House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said.

Since mid-March, the House has only been in session to vote on coronavirus-related legislation, most recently on May 15 to adopt the rules changes for remote voting and to pass Democrats' $3 trillion relief package.

This week, the House will be in session on Wednesday and Thursday to vote on fixes for the small-business loan program and legislation to extend government surveillance powers.

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says she would have put up a fight against Capitol mob: 'I'm a street fighter' Biden to address Congress on April 28 NY House Democrats demand repeal of SALT cap MORE (D-Calif.) formally invoked a 45-day period last week to allow proxy voting due to the coronavirus, which can be renewed if considered necessary in the coming months.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerNY House Democrats demand repeal of SALT cap Democrats face mounting hurdles to agenda This week: Congress returns with lengthy to-do list MORE (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday that the chamber schedule in the coming weeks remains fluid based on when committees can process legislation to send to the floor, such as annual appropriations bills.

"They need to be worked on by the committees and reported out. So that will dictate what we decide will be our general schedule going forward," Hoyer said.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed. Updated at 8:25 p.m.