House

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

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.

Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Jamie Raskin (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.

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 Rooney (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 Gallego and Tom O’Halleran will both be serving as proxies, as will California Reps. Lou Correa, Brad Sherman, Linda Sánchez, Doris Matsui and Pete Aguilar. 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 DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), who recently spent almost five weeks in the intensive care unit due to a running accident, and John Lewis (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.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (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 Hoyer (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.

Tags Brad Sherman Coronavirus DC Doris Matsui Francis Rooney Jamie Raskin John Lewis Linda Sanchez Lou Correa Mark DeSaulnier Maryland Nancy Pelosi Pandemic Paycheck Protection Program Pete Aguilar Proxy voting remote voting Ruben Gallego Steny Hoyer Tom O'Halleran Virginia
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