The U.S. House of Representatives made history Wednesday by conducting its first proxy vote since Congress first met in 1789 — as Republicans raised alarms over the temporary voting system implemented because of coronavirus.
It came as the House voted Wednesday afternoon 413-1 on imposing sanctions against Chinese officials for the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China.
More than 70 House Democrats — about a third of the Democratic caucus — alerted the House clerk they would be absent from Washington for the roll call votes but designated another member to vote on their behalf. No Republicans voted by proxy.
The unprecedented vote occurred in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic after House Democrats passed May 15 a temporary resolution to allow absent members to still cast votes in an effort to stop the spread of the virus and protect public health.
New for the proxy vote arrangement was a steady stream of lawmakers standing up on the House floor and verbally announcing the names of their colleagues they are voting proxy for and how each person votes on the legislation. For example, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., was the designated proxy voter for Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.
“I inform the House that Ms. Bass will vote ‘yea,'” Cicilline announced on the House floor and her vote was recorded into the roll call tally.
Currently, there are 431 members in House and 74 Democrats were to vote by proxy. That means 17 percent of all members were voting remotely Wednesday in the history-making tally.
“Today is a sad day that we have got to be in the position where we’re bringing suit against the speaker,” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said earlier Wednesday before the planned vote. “We’re bringing suit against the Democrats in order to prevent them from pushing this proxy vote through.”
But House Democrats said a remote voting plan was necessary to keep Congress moving during the pandemic when members could be unable to travel to Washington due to sickness, quarantine and stay-home orders. Health experts across the country have advised against large gatherings to stop the spread of the contagious virus that’s already killed about 100,000 Americans.
“The House made its will clear two weeks ago when it voted to implement remote voting by proxy and other necessary measures to ensure that Congress can continue to protect lives and livelihoods,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday night ripping the lawsuit as a “sad stunt.” “The House’s position that remote voting by proxy during a pandemic is fully consistent with the Constitution is supported by expert legal analyses.”
As Washington, D.C. is still considered a hot spot and under stay-home orders, the House resumed for a brief two-day session this week to consider FISA reforms, condemn human rights violations against ethnic Turkic Muslims in China known as Uyghurs, and vote on small business coronavirus legislation and other bills.
Meanwhile, lawmakers were scrambling on a new FISA plan as Republicans suddenly withdrew their support.
Republicans have rejected the proxy vote option and showed up to Washington arguing that members of Congress are essential workers.
“For 231 years, never have we seen a proxy vote on the floor of the House,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, said Wednesday morning. “…We look at the history of America through the Yellow Fever of 1793, the Civil War, the burning of this Capitol during the War of 1812, the Spanish Flu of 1918, and even 9/11. Congress has never flinched from its constitutional duty to uphold and assemble inside this body.”
Other countries have adopted rule changes during the coronavirus pandemic to allow for some remote and virtual proceedings, such as Canada, Brazil and the European Union. The British House of Commons broke 700 years of history last month by convening parliament with Zoom.
Other aspects of the U.S. government have already changed.
The Supreme Court is now holding oral arguments via telephone conference. And the U.S. Senate May 12 held a hybrid video conference hearing where the chairman and witnesses were zoomed into the room from their homes, including Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The House’s remote voting plan allows for absent members to cast votes by proxy for 45 days. One member can vote proxy on behalf of up to 10 colleagues. The special provisions can be renewed for the remainder of the congressional term that ends in January.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.
Author: Marisa Schultz