“For more than 231 years, never have we seen a proxy vote on the floor of the House,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday morning. “This challenges the Constitution, only to protect and empower a speaker.”
Republicans argue the Constitution requires lawmakers to be present for votes and on Tuesday announced a lawsuit before the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Republicans said Wednesday they expect the Supreme Court ultimately to rule proxy voting is unconstitutional.
The Constitution sets a 50 percent attendance threshold for lawmakers to have a quorum allowing votes. Democrats allowed the proxy reform in a near party-line vote this month, arguing the coronavirus pandemic puts lawmakers’ health at risk.
The House may use proxy voting Wednesday, including in a possible vote on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act legislation that Republicans are asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pull after President Trump urged a “no” vote Tuesday night.
“Whatever the Democrats move forward will probably never be held up to be law,” McCarthy warned.
“We look at the history of America through yellow fever of 1793, the Civil War, the burning of this Capitol during the War of 1812, the Spanish Flu of 1918 and even 9/11 — Congress has never flinched from its constitutional duty to uphold and assemble inside this body,” McCarthy continued.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) noted that many states are reopening as COVID-19 cases decline, and lawmakers already “have been able to have votes on the House floor successfully and safely.”
West Coast Democrats are well-represented among the 71 lawmakers who filed with the Clerk of the House to vote by proxy, in letters designating a colleague to vote for them. There are 26 California Democrats, three Oregon Democrats and three Democrats from Washington state.
Four New York Democrats filed to vote by proxy: Reps. Nita Lowey, Carolyn Maloney, Jose Serrano and Paul Tonko.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) denied during recent floor debates that proxy voting would centralize power to party leaders. Pelosi said, however, she understood the concern because House committee chairmen wielded great power when she was a younger congresswoman thanks to proxy votes, which were allowed in committee until the ’90s.
At their morning press conference, Republicans offered different opinions on how to proceed with House business during the coronavirus pandemic. Third-ranking Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming said she was open to some form of remote voting, which many other Republicans oppose.
Pelosi and House Democrats say that lawmakers would have to dutifully implement the wishes of peers who could not be present. But Republicans including McCarthy argue that motions and amendments may not allow time for consultation.
“The founders believed we should assemble,” McCarthy said at the press conference. “If Democrats are successful in allowing a proxy vote to make their own rules, what stops them from making a rule that only certain people can vote, or certain members cannot have a full vote — a half vote? Nothing.”