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House extends proxy voting to July

House extends proxy voting to July
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi Pelosi says she's giving Senate more time on Jan. 6 commission Ocasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality MORE (D-Calif.) announced Monday that House members can continue to vote by proxy due to the COVID-19 pandemic through at least July 3.

The latest extension comes as Republicans have been pushing for a return to normal pre-pandemic House operations given that roughly 75 percent of House members are vaccinated and new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week loosened mask recommendations.

But since not all House members are vaccinated, Democratic leaders have been reluctant to scrap mask rules or social distancing guidelines on the chamber floor.

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Allowing proxy voting to remain in place through early July means that it will have been in effect for more than a year since it first began on May 27 of last year.

Under the rules House Democrats adopted last year, proxy voting is allowed for only 45 days at a time unless Pelosi, following confirmation from the House sergeant-at-arms and Capitol physician that there is a public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorizes an extension.

Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues that she was "hereby extending the 'covered period'" and attached a notice from House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker stating that "the public health emergency due to the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 remains in effect."

The current authority allowing proxy voting was set to expire on May 19.

The CDC announced last week that people who are fully vaccinated don't need to wear masks indoors or outdoors except in settings such as public transit or health care facilities. Nevertheless, the House floor mask mandate remains in effect until all lawmakers and floor staff are fully vaccinated, and noncompliance is punishable by fines starting at $500.

The Capitol's attending physician, Brian Monahan, said in a memo on Monday that "additional medical safeguards are required to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreak" on the floor because it is "the only location where the entire Membership gathers periodically throughout the day in an interior space."

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House members are also still required to wear masks at committee meetings.

Pelosi did announce a slight relaxation of the mask requirement last week before the new CDC guidance became public. Lawmakers can now remove their masks when recognized to speak on the floor or in committees.

A CNN survey published last week found that all Democratic members of Congress are vaccinated, while less than half of House Republicans have publicly acknowledged they are. CNN also found that all but four GOP senators are vaccinated.

Republicans widely opposed proxy voting when Democrats first adopted it. They filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. But Republicans increasingly in recent months have embraced proxy voting, particularly due to safety concerns after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In February, about a dozen House Republicans voted by proxy while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla.