House debating proxy voting: Here’s what could happen

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Lawmakers in the House are poised to debate whether to allow “proxy” or “remote” voting so members don’t have to physically gather on the floor amid coronavirus social distancing.

It comes as the House is moving to a vote on the so-called phase “3.5” coronavirus response bill. During that vote – which could come Thursday – members will likely take a roll call vote and file into the chamber in small groups, spread out over several hours to approve the package. Fox News is told it is unlikely the House would apply “proxy” voting to the coronavirus bill on Thursday.

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But what the House will also likely do Thursday is actually vote on a new provision to permit proxy voting in the House during the pandemic.

Read on for how it could happen.

How will the debate get started?

The House Rules Committee will probably meet, perhaps late in the day Wednesday, in a much larger hearing room than normal – to prepare a “rule” to tackle the remote voting plan. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., indicated that meeting could unfold on Thursday.

What would “remote voting” look like?

It’s notable that some Democrats are referring to this alternative method of “proxy” voting as “remote voting.”

It’s kind of the lowest-tech option available: The process – which is still being worked out – would allow members who cannot come to Washington to cast their ballots on the floor to notify members who are there how they would vote.

How will it work?

It’s not clear exactly how absent members would do so and how they would know which members are present to take their votes. But this was described to Fox News as using members as a “human voting machine.” Those members present would then cast ballots on behalf of those who are absent. They would not be allowed to change any votes. And, they want to keep some of this away from the leadership so there is no effort to pressure members to cast ballots a certain way.

Members who take the orders from absent members cannot change the ballot of those voting from afar.

Are rules being changed?

To implement the remote voting, Fox News is told the House is not changing its rules. Instead, it is implementing a “standing order” (which must be voted on). The standing order allowing for remote voting would likely have a sunset and could be altered as they go forward. Proxy voting would just be allowed to respond to the pandemic. Fox is told that potentially the sergeant-at-arms would indicate that a certain number of members may be unable to make it to Washington. The speaker would be informed and then they’d set up proxy voting. Proxy votes would be specific to each, specific issue in the House. Members would not be given latitude to vote in a “blanket” fashion on behalf of their colleagues.

Is there precedent for this?

Note that the House used proxy voting on the floor in the early days of the institution. Proxy voting was barred in committee in 1995. However, proxy voting is still used in the Senate and in House/Senate conference committees.

Who opposes it?

Key Republicans have reservations about the proxy voting gambit. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the top GOPer on the House administration are skeptical of the plan. Some Republicans are worried about the “security” of the plan. Also, the GOP brass is feeling pressure from some rank-and-file members who are now making a point of being on Capitol Hill.

“Lots of Republicans have to be against proxy voting because they have people in their conference who say ‘Be at your station!’” said one Democratic source.

The proxy voting scenario also gives GOPers another way to cast their favorite target in a negative light: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. One Republican source indicated to Fox News that they would use the proxy voting issue as a wedge against Democrats, saying this was a “power grab” by Pelosi and she was “expanding her power.”

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However, there is a downside to GOP opposition to proxy voting.

“It’s fine until something bad happens,” said one Congressional source.

The idea is that Republicans could oppose proxy voting until one or several members contract coronavirus, or, they catch it and bring it back to their district.

Will it ultimately be approved?

To be clear, it’s possible the House could vote on the proxy voting this week. But that is not set in stone. And it is unlikely that the House would use the proxy process on the upcoming coronavirus bill vote on Thursday.