For at least the next 45 days, House members who do not feel comfortable traveling to Washington because of the coronavirus pandemic can stay home and still vote on the House floor and participate in committee meetings.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday used her authority provided under House rules changes adopted last week to designate a 45-day “covered period” in which members can vote by proxy and committees can meet virtually.
The California Democrat’s activation of the 45-day period comes after House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving wrote her Tuesday to provide formal notification of “an ongoing public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus.”
The new House rules say the speaker can only designate a covered period for proxy voting and remote committee proceedings after receiving such notification. The rules also provide Pelosi with the authority to extend the 45-day period or end it early based upon future correspondence from the SAA about the status of the public health emergency.
The first potential use of proxy voting will occur next week, when the House meets May 27 and 28 to consider the Senate-amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act hreauthorization and a bill to adjust the terms of the Paycheck Protection Program that provides small businesses with forgivable loans to cover payroll and other fixed costs.
Any member wishing to vote by proxy must send a letter to the House clerk designating a member to serve as their proxy, who will make the instructions public. Any one member can serve as a proxy for up to 10 members.
Republicans opposed the proxy voting rule in part because they claim it would allow for a consolidation of power. They say it would only take 22 members to be physically present to pass legislation if each served as a proxy for 10 other members. Democratic leaders say that scenario is unrealistic and that in-person vote attendance will be much higher than 22 members.
Shortly after Pelosi activated the 45-day covered period, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer sent a notice advising members that the clerk’s office will accept letters containing their proxy designations. Members can email their designations to Clerk_Proxy@housemail.house.gov using an official House email address, but they must also send a dated and signed hard copy of the letter to the clerk’s office in the Capitol.
“This new proxy voting system has been developed to afford members greater flexibility to safely record their votes during this national pandemic,” Hoyer said in the notice. “To ensure the integrity of this new process, we ask that members familiarize themselves with the requirements for proxy voting and strictly adhere to these requirements. This will allow the clerk’s office to effectively fulfill their vital role of recording and counting members’ votes with the utmost accuracy.”
House committees will likely use Pelosi’s activation of the covered period to begin holding remote hearings or hybrid hearings where some members participate in person and others do so virtually.However, remote markups are still a ways off. Guidance from the Rules Committee advised committees that they cannot hold remote markups until they have conducted at least two virtual hearings and a private practice session of a virtual markup.