Republicans claim proxy voting, which the House will use this week, is unconstitutional.
House Republicans are planning to file a lawsuit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a bid to block a new proxy voting system, which will allow lawmakers to cast their first remote votes on the floor this week amid the global pandemic.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), along with 20 other GOP lawmakers, will file a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the voting method, calling it unconstitutional. Four constituents are also signing on to the lawsuit, claiming their representation in Congress is at risk of being diluted.
Republican aides, however, do not expect the courts to intervene before lawmakers take their first proxy votes on Wednesday.
Pelosi dismissed the GOP lawsuit Tuesday evening. “House Republicans’ sad stunt shows that their only focus is to delay and obstruct urgently needed action to meet the needs of American workers and families during the coronavirus crisis,” Pelosi (D-Calif,) said, adding that the procedure is “fully consistent with the Constitution.
“Top Republicans have been crusading against the historic rules change, foreshadowing the legal move for days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned the constitutionality of the system late last week. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) had suggested Republicans would mount a legal challenge after the procedure, which is temporary and only to be used during the current Congress, is first used this week. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who helped develop the proxy voting system while working with Republicans dismissed attacks from McConnell and others as politically motivated.
“I think the political attacks are unjustified and will not have the effect that he wants,” Hoyer said Tuesday, noting the Senate also utilizes proxy voting in its committees but not for floor votes.
“In fact, the polls show that the Republicans right now are vulnerable in the United States Senate, I think that’s what he’s worried about — that I think we stand a good chance of taking back the majority of the United States Senate,” he said.
It’s unlikely that Republicans will find a welcome reception from the federal courts, which are notoriously reluctant to wade into internal House machinations. The House sets its own rules and procedures, and judges routinely sidestep questions about them by deferring to the internal prerogatives of the House, often citing the Constitution’s language that declares that “[e]ach House may determine the rules of its proceedings.”
The House will return Wednesday to vote on a bill to reauthorize federal spy powers, the first legislation not related to the coronavirus pandemic to reach the floor since March.
The proxy votes represent a monumental change that has already been panned by Republicans, including McConnell. So far, more than 50 Democrats have said they plan to vote by proxy.
The procedure will involve careful coordination by Democratic leadership, who held a call Tuesday afternoon to answer questions from lawmakers who will vote by proxy this week, many from states like California, Washington and Oregon with long travel times. Other lawmakers who have also chosen to vote via proxy live closer to Washington, but fall into high-risk categories for coronavirus.
Even before announcing their lawsuit, GOP leadership had been encouraging House Republicans to not use the proxy voting system. Instead, members are being advised to submit statements to the congressional record if they can’t be in the Capitol and want to record how they would have voted.
“If Members are able to do so safely, they are encouraged to be present in D.C. and voting on the House floor,” the GOP whip’s office told members in a notice last week.
Few, if any, Republicans are expected to opt into the proxy voting system, according to GOP sources. And just one retiring Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida expressed support for the proxy voting plan after Democrats muscled it through the House on a party-line vote.
The House will also vote Thursday on several noncontroversial bills, including legislation addressing human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and a proposal to give small businesses more time to spend coronavirus-related federal loans.Still, signs of the chamber returning to business as usual are still weeks if not months away.
Hoyer told reporters Tuesday he couldn’t predict when or even if the chamber would resume its regular roster of legislative activities this summer, saying that would be dictated by when committees finish drafting a slew of must-pass bills to fund the government and reauthorize highway, water and defense programs.
“As you know, Washington, D.C., continues to be a hot spot in the country, that’s a concern with Dr. Monahan with whom I’ve been talking to on a regular basis,” Hoyer said, referencing the Capitol physician. “I’m very focused on committees getting work done. … So that will dictate what we decide will be our general schedule going forward.”
The House is returning to the Capitol less than two weeks after passing a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill its largest legislative package ever considered with just a single GOP vote.
Democrats have touted their sprawling legislation, known as the Heroes Act, as crucial support for cash-strapped state and local governments, as well as the millions of people who have lost jobs during the pandemic. But Senate GOP leaders have rejected the bill, insisting that Congress should focus, instead, on reopening the economy to stem the financial bleeding across the country.
McConnell and some senior Senate Republicans, however, have begun to shift their tone in recent days, as they’ve signaled that Congress may need to take up additional pandemic recovery packages.
“In the next month or so we’ll be talking about possibly another bill,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., where he is spending the Senate’s weeklong recess.
But McConnell made clear that the Senate wouldn’t simply take up the “$3 trillion left-wing wish list like the House cobbled together.”
The Kentucky Republican also reiterated that any additional assistance must have some strings attached, such as liability protections for businesses operating during the pandemic.