On First Day Of “Virtual” Congress, Democrats Make a Surprising Decision

The House met for the first time Wednesday under new rules permitting proxy voting. Nearly one-third of the Democratic caucus stayed home.

According to the House clerk, more than 70 Democrats assigned another 40 lawmakers to vote for them by proxy, which is now permitted under a rule change passed by the Democratic majority earlier this month in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The first vote by proxy took place hours after House Republicans condemned the new rule in a press conference and a day after they filed a lawsuit in federal court to block it.

It was a vote to clear a Senate bill sanctioning Chinese officials over the treatment of ethnic minorities in China. Democrats stood in the well of the chamber and announced their votes for absent members, all of whom cited the pandemic for their absences.

“I inform the chair that Mr. Price will vote yea,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, said, voting for Rep. David Price, also of North Carolina.

Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia voted for himself and eight fellow Democrats in favor of the bill.

The partisan battle over proxy voting continued on the House floor Wednesday afternoon, where a debate over extending a critical surveillance law was dominated by differences over breaking the 231-year-old rule requiring members to be physically present in order to vote.

“What that means is that a member of this body, who has had delegated to them the responsibility from their constituents to vote for them, to be in this body representing them, is taking that solemn duty and handing it to another. And in some cases, handing it to five or 10 members,” Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, argued on the House floor. “It undermines the body. It dilutes the representation of our constituents.”

The House rule, which is meant to be temporary, allows a member who is present in the chamber to vote for up to 10 absent lawmakers if they specifically instruct how they want their votes recorded.

The House also authorized virtual committee business. Instead of meeting in person, committees can hold online meetings and online committee votes to advance legislation.

The House Rules Committee, which votes to set the terms for debate on legislation, met at one point Wednesday with only GOP lawmakers present in the committee room. Democrats were all online.

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee threatened to boycott future hearings, accusing Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of holding “several different remote or virtual briefings that have evolved over time into quasi-hearings that run roughshod over the rights of the minority and have been plagued by numerous technical problems embarrassing the serious work of the Committee.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pointed out that more than half of California’s delegation, all Democrats, stayed home.

“That means 19 million people in California will not have their voices heard,” McCarthy, a California Republican, said.

McCarthy criticized a provision in the new rule that allows staff to deliver proxy voting instructions to lawmakers in the chamber on behalf of representatives, which McCarthy said amounts to allowing staff to vote.

Democrats staunchly defended the proxy voting rule.

Rep. Jim McGovern, chairman of the House Rules panel and author of the proxy voting change, accused Republicans of twisting and distorting the purpose of the procedure. McGovern pointed out that coronavirus has claimed the lives of nearly 100,000 in the United States.

“We are trying to figure out how to operate during a very difficult time in our country,” McGovern said. “We are trying to get through this. But if this comes back in the fall we need to be prepared.”

Author: Susan Ferrechio

Source: Washington Examiner: On first day of virtual Congress, more than 70 Democrats stayed home

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