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House Democrats open to making proxy voting the 'new normal'

House Democrats open to making proxy voting the 'new normal'
© Greg Nash

A year after the pandemic upended life in Congress and across the country, House Democrats are leaving the door open to keeping proxy voting in some form as part of the “new normal” on Capitol Hill.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July House to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month Top Democrat: Bill to boost Capitol security likely to advance this month MORE (D-Md.) said this week it’s a question lawmakers will likely discuss as a potential option under limited circumstances, especially given how many Republicans are now embracing the practice as a matter of convenience.

“I think there will be discussion about should we be able to vote remotely in other circumstances post-COVID-19,” Hoyer said. “There is really, you know, no magic in being in a particular room when you vote.”

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Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeNC House ending remote voting for lawmakers House GOP campaign arm adds to target list Michigan Democrat says he sought treatment for PTSD after Jan. 6 riot MORE (Mich.), who serves as House Democrats’ chief deputy whip, expressed support for allowing proxy voting in limited circumstances, such as the inability to travel due to a long-term illness. Kildee served as a proxy for Rep. John LewisJohn LewisAlabama state legislature passes bill to name part of highway after John Lewis Alabama museum unveils restored Greyhound bus for Freedom Rides' 60th anniversary Is America slipping to autocracy? MORE last year before the Georgia Democrat's death from pancreatic cancer.

“I think that's something worthy of consideration. I think the threshold would have to be pretty high, but I would be open to it,” Kildee said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesOn The Money: Breaking down Biden's .8T American Families Plan | Powell voices confidence in Fed's handle on inflation | Wall Street basks in 'Biden boom' Democratic leaders push to boost congressional staff pay Troy Carter wins race to fill Cedric Richmond's Louisiana House seat MORE (D-N.Y.) added: “It's a reasonable discussion for us to have.”

The proxy voting system used in the House is currently in effect through the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats began implementing the practice in May, and it was renewed in January.

The willingness to consider proxy voting on a permanent basis — even if it’s just for limited circumstances — is a sea change from a year ago when lawmakers in both parties were initially skeptical of the concept to adapt to the pandemic.

Republicans at the time were adamantly opposed to the idea and even filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. The suit was initially dismissed but Republicans filed an appeal.

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Since then, however, the practice has become more bipartisan and routine. Many Republicans got on board when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week GOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories National Review editors defend Cheney from party attacks MORE (R-Calif.) signaled after the Jan. 6 insurrection that they could use proxy voting out of security concerns surrounding travel.

House Republicans have continued to use proxy voting, including about a dozen who cast votes remotely while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., last month.

But there are still some GOP holdouts.

At a Republican conference meeting last week, lawmakers were divided over the practice; some suggested they should embrace it, others called for sticking with their initial opposition.

Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisHouse Republicans request hearing with Capitol Police Board for first time since 1945 Bipartisan lawmakers weigh in on post-pandemic health care costs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP draws line on taxes; nation braces for Chauvin verdict MORE (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, argued there has been “bipartisan abuse” of proxy voting.

“I do think that we need to get rid of proxy voting,” Davis said, questioning the need for it when the Senate hasn’t implemented a similar system.

While walking toward the Rotunda that divides the House and Senate wings of the Capitol, Davis joked, “We're almost at the imaginary force field where COVID changes and the reaction to it changes when we go to the Senate side."

McCarthy this week called on Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July MORE (D-Calif.) to outline a plan for reopening the House with a return to more in-person hearings, ending proxy voting and mask rules, and resuming Capitol tours that have been suspended since the pandemic began.

He cited a statistic from the Capitol attending physician’s office that said about 75 percent of House members are now fully vaccinated or will be in a matter of days.

“Simply put: it's time that we return to regular order,” McCarthy wrote in a letter to Pelosi.

Hoyer said this week that he anticipates most House business will eventually return to its traditional in-person format to facilitate the relationship-building that’s critical to lawmaking.

“I think the majority believes that being in person is a positive way of doing business with one another in the legislative process, whether it's in committee or on the floor or just on the Hill seeing one another,” he told reporters.

In addition to proxy voting, committee business has also been altered by the pandemic. House Democratic leaders now schedule “committee work weeks” dedicated to hearings and markups that can be held virtually when lawmakers aren’t required to be in Washington for floor votes.

Some lawmakers say they appreciate the ability to conduct committee work remotely — Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarTSA chief cites 'substantial increase' in firearms at airports Democrats seek to keep spotlight on Capitol siege Hispanic Caucus energized by first Biden meeting MORE (D-Calif.) called the work weeks “very efficient” for handling oversight functions — while others are sick of Zoom calls and internet connectivity problems.

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeNow that earmarks are back, it's time to ban 'poison pill' riders Parade of 2024 GOP hopefuls court House conservatives Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings dies at 84 MORE (Okla.), the top Republican on the House Rules Committee, said reducing rank-and-file members’ time in Washington means they have fewer opportunities to influence legislation that’s primarily driven by leadership.

“A lot of business gets transacted on the floor, just interacting with other members. So missing that, I think, really weakens members, and honestly strengthens leadership. This place has become more top-heavy because of the way in which we vote and the amount of time it takes,” Cole said.

Floor votes are now held open for 45 minutes, instead of the typical 15-minute cap, so that lawmakers can vote in small groups instead of crowding together like they did before the pandemic.

For critics of proxy voting, though, there’s an acknowledgement of the uphill battle to reverse a practice that's become commonplace.

“I certainly said at the beginning, this is never going to go away once it's implemented,” Davis said.

Mike Lillis contributed.