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Bills could pass with just 22 lawmakers present out of 435 under new House proxy voting rule

House GOP leader argues House Speaker Pelosi is 'altering American democracy' with proxy voting

Updated: May 26, 2020 - 2:49pm

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The Democrat-controlled House’s recent passage of a measure to allow a final vote on bills with just 22 members present on Capitol Hill is underscoring the partisan divide about coronavirus safety vs. abdicating congressional responsibility. 

"A virtual Congress would be a Congress that is connected to the Internet, but disconnected from the American people,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted Sunday.  “Democrats are forever altering American democracy for the worse. Unconstitutional power grab!”

McCarthy, the House’s top Republican, has been at the forefront of the opposition, opposing the idea of proxy voting shortly after the House went into recess in mid-March as a result of the virus and began looking for alternative means of balloting. 

Hours before the House passed the proxy measure, McCarthy went to the House floor to argue that Congress’ 530-plus members are on the frontline – like doctors, nurses and police officers – helping Americans through the pandemic. 

“The work of our frontline heroes is the definition of essential,” he said. "It cannot be done remotely or by proxy. Why should Congress be any different?”

McCarthy also argued the bill runs counter to 230 years of House rules and the Constitution by limiting the debate and amendment process for legislation. 

The new proxy voting rule, which passed 217-189, allows each member voting in-person to submit 10 proxy votes on behalf of other members.

In the absence of an electronic remote voting system, members have been practicing social distance while voting on bills with a rotation of small groups in the chamber. Supporters say the new rule, which allows proxy voting during this pandemic and similar emergencies, is needed considering the health risks associated with members traveling to Washington, given that many are 65 or older. 

Under the rule, 22 members physically present in the chamber can represent up to 220 votes and 218 yes votes out of 435 are required for a bill to pass. Given that there are currently 430 members in the House due to vacancies, 216 members must vote in favor of a bill for it to pass.

The House Rules Committee says each member not voting in-person has to provide "written instruction" to the member voting in-person on their behalf.

"Proxies must receive exact written instruction from the member voting by proxy on each vote, and are required to follow that instruction precisely," a committee spokesperson said.

Colorado Rep. Earl Perlmutter was one of the Democrats who voted in favor of the proxy voting. 

“We must utilize technology for fully remote voting and eventually work on a permanent change to the House Rules to ensure Congress can continue our important work through future emergencies,” he recently tweeted. 

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, also criticized the proxy voting rule.

“Now they can turn their voting cards over to Pelosi & sit at home collecting their paychecks while she unilaterally passes legislation with just 20 Members present,” he wrote.