House Democrats passed a historic rules change on Friday that will allow members of the House to vote by proxy and conduct committee hearings and meetings remotely for 45 days. Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) has the ability to extend the remote proceedings an additional 45 days should the Wuhan coronavirus emergency continue past that point. Three Democrats -- Reps. Rick Larsen (WA), Elaine Luria (VA) and Tom O’Halleran (AZ) -- joined with Republicans in voting against the rules change. The move comes as states and local jurisdictions are beginning to reopen.
As long as essential workers are being asked to work, Republicans argue lawmakers should be working in-person as well. Republicans also argue in-person meetings are central to representative government and worry the move will fundamentally transform the nature of the body.
Under the new rules, passed 217-189, House members can give written instructions authorizing another member present in the chamber to vote on their behalf. A single member can serve as a proxy for up to 10 representatives at any given time. Committees members can also participate in open hearings and cast committee votes remotely, but closed hearings will still be held in-person.
"This bill would allow one member to have 10 proxies in their back pocket. Think about that," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) during floor debate, according to USA Today. "Twenty-two members ...could do the business of 330 million people in this great country."
The rules change also raises constitutional questions, such as a majority being required in order to form a quorum and conduct business.
The measure goes further than that of the GOP-controlled upper chamber, which adopted safety measures -- like wearing facial coverings and conducting remote hearings -- before reconvening last week. The newly adopted House rules allow representatives to vote remotely for the first time in the lower chamber's more than 200 year history.