WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM/CBS NEWS) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure Friday to temporarily allow both remote voting by proxy and official remote committee proceedings during the coronavirus pandemic.
The nearly party-line vote, 217 to 189, means that a member present at the Capitol would be able to cast a vote on behalf of up to 10 absent colleagues.
The pandemic has raised concerns about having lawmakers gather to vote, particularly since many members of Congress are older than 60 and therefore more vulnerable to serious illness caused by the virus.
House Republicans have expressed opposition to this rule change, arguing that members of Congress are essential workers and should return to the Capitol.
The House is expected to vote on the rule change before voting on the coronavirus legislation.
Congressman Roger Williams (R-TX-25 following statement:
“Our United States Constitution does not just disappear when we are in the midst of a pandemic. We have asked members of our communities to show up to work every day despite risking their health and safety, yet Speaker Pelosi and Democrats are attempting to rewrite over 200 years of precedent in order to allow Members of Congress to stay home when convenient. This dangerous resolution takes away the voices of those who elected us and leaves Texans without complete representation in our democracy.”
Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), a member of the House Rules Committee and Republican Leader of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, released the following statement:
“Governing is difficult, especially as we are fighting this invisible enemy,” said Burgess. “Nevertheless, it is legislative malpractice to alter the fundamental functioning of this body without bipartisan support and without clarifying numerous procedural and technical questions.”
“Congress is so named because we congregate together in service of the American people. To digress to remote hearings, markups, and proxy voting disrupts the way the founders intended for the governance of this country.
“I recognize the need for some vulnerable individuals to continue social distancing and accommodations for those individuals is appropriate. But this resolution allows successive 45-day periods of remote operations until the end of the Congress based only on the decision of the Speaker of the House. In addition, allowing one Member to be the proxy for up to 10 other Members would allow 22 Members to pass legislation on behalf of the entire body. That is not representative government. This was not the intention of the Founders, and I will not give away the vote of the people of the 26th district of Texas to someone they did not elect.
“We have all experienced throughout the last weeks and months inevitable technical difficulties, even for the tech savvy. There is no way to replicate the procedures, tools, and minority rights of committee markups virtually. In a majoritarian body, we cannot risk silencing a voice speaking on behalf of constituents because a wrong button is pushed, or a connection is lost.
“Congress is resilient. Now let’s get back to work on behalf of the American people.”