The House of Representatives made an unprecedented move as it will temporarily allow proxy voting and remote hearings as the nation combats the coronavirus outbreak.
With a 217 to 189 vote, largely along party lines, the House approved the proposal on Friday. This will allow one lawmaker to vote by proxy on behalf of up to 10 others who are not able to travel to Washington, D.C.
Rep. Jim McGovern, the Rules Committee chairman, (D-Mass.) said on the House floor on Friday that the suggestion for changes was not taken “lightly,” as he noted, “I still believe that we do our best work in person and side by side.”
“But we must temporarily embrace technology during this unprecedented time,” he added.
The move was not met with a warm welcome by all, as Republicans pushed back on the unprecedented move.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) penned a Fox News op-ed where he suggested, “Americans should be outraged and frightened by an unprecedented rule change.”
“The vote Friday night was not only unprecedented in our nation’s history – it was completely unwarranted,” he wrote.
Additionally, ahead of Friday’s vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on the House floor, “We can continue to work in a safe and effective manner without overturning 230 years of constitutional and legislative tradition.”
The proposal will expire at the end of this session. It also needs to be renewed every 45 days. It is the first time the House has allowed voting by proxy on the House floor — though it was previously allowed at the committee level until 1995.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the House could face legal challenges after Pelosi and Democrats passed a plan that will allow proxy voting on legislation.
“There will be enormous constitutional questions around anything the House does if they fail to demonstrate a real quorum but plow ahead anyhow,” McConnell said.
Last week, the Democratic-controlled House passed a historic rules change allowing proxy voting for the first time in the 231-year history of the body.
McConnell slammed the unprecedented rule change and called out the House for only convening twice in eight weeks.
“While essential workers across the country continue to clock in, the Democratic House of Representatives has essentially put itself on paid leave for months,” he said.
McConnell said the rule allowing a remote quorum raises constitutional questions, an opinion that is backed up by the Congressional Research Service.
The service said proxy voting might survive legal challenges, but using proxy votes to constitute a quorum may not.
McConnell raised the same legal questions.
“The Constitution requires a physical quorum to do business,” McConnell said. “The new rule says one person may mark himself and 10 others present, even if they are nowhere in sight, a flat-out lie.”
On Friday, the House also passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package by a vote of 208-199.
The bill includes $500 billion for state governments, as well as another round of stimulus checks for individuals and families.
However, President Donald Trump has said he would veto it should it make it to his desk.