Per ABC News, the House passed a measure on Friday allowing lawmakers to vote by proxy during the coronavirus pandemic, a significant policy shift that will allow members to cast floor votes remotely for the first time in the chamber’s 231-year history.
The vote, on the same day the chamber considered a $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, followed weeks of debate on Capitol Hill over how to best adapt the famously close-quarters, back-slapping work environment to the virus outbreak that has killed 87,000 Americans.
The measure passed 217-189, with three Democrats and Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan voting with Republicans against the change. Twenty-four members did not vote.
WashingtonExaminer reports House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy denounced a looming rules change that would end the 230-year-old requirement that lawmakers vote and conduct legislative business in person at the Capitol.
“The founders would be ashamed of today,” the California Republican told reporters at a press conference in the Capitol Friday.
The House has required in-person voting since the body first convened in 1789. But Democrats say the coronavirus makes it too dangerous for the House to operate in person and is about to pass a major change that will allow proxy voting and remote committee business that will include virtual votes to advance legislation. One lawmaker will be able to vote on the House floor for up to ten absent lawmakers who provide direct instructions on how they wish to vote.
Republicans argue it will allow the presence of fewer than two dozen lawmakers to pass a measure on the House floor.
“We are changing the power of Congress itself,” McCarthy said. “That 20 people inside the House of Representatives will have all the power.”
House lawmakers gathered in the Capitol for only the third time in two months in order to vote on the historic rules change. The House has mainly been in recess since mid-March due to the coronavirus. The U.S. death toll from the virus topped 80,000 on Friday. Several House lawmakers and Sen. Rand Paul have recovered from coronavirus.
“Does the speaker believe she should continue to pay members of Congress and keep them home?” McCarthy said. “Does she believe that Congress is essential? If so, come back and hold hearings.”
The rules change allowing remote work would expire after 45 days, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi can renew it.