U.S. House approves voting by proxy amid COVID-19 pandemic
Updated 12:22, 16-May-2020
CGTN
Social distancing guidelines show members of Congress where to sit as the House Rules Committee meets to consider a resolution authorizing remote voting by proxy in the House of Representatives during the COVID-19 outbreak, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 14, 2020. /Reuters

Social distancing guidelines show members of Congress where to sit as the House Rules Committee meets to consider a resolution authorizing remote voting by proxy in the House of Representatives during the COVID-19 outbreak, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 14, 2020. /Reuters

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved an historic change to its rules, allowing lawmakers to vote by "proxy" from remote locations temporarily. 

By a mostly partisan vote of 217-189, the House approved the rules change proposed by Democrats, allowing Speaker Nancy Pelosi to trigger the remote voting procedure for the first time in Congress' history if she deems it necessary. 

The move upends more than 200 years of precedent in Congress, where proxy voting has been allowed before within committees but not for votes in the full House or Senate. 

Currently, House members must appear in the House chamber to cast their votes on legislation. That requirement has become cumbersome as lawmakers shelter in their homes in an attempt to help limit the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus that has killed more than 87,000 people in the United States. The special procedure is intended to be in effect during the coronavirus crisis.

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A discarded mask lays on a sign in the Capitol subway in Washington, U.S., May 14, 2020. /Reuters

A discarded mask lays on a sign in the Capitol subway in Washington, U.S., May 14, 2020. /Reuters

House Democrat Jim McGovern said forcing lawmakers to repeatedly fly between their states and Washington and convene in person during a health emergency jeopardizes the lives of colleagues, staff and the general public.  

"Convening Congress must not turn into a super-spreader event," he told the chamber, speaking through a surgical mask. "You can respect tradition without blinding yourself of the need to make temporary changes when necessary. And today is one of those times." 

Republicans however attacked the move as an assault on representative government that would change the fundamental character of Congress.  

"This has never been done in the history of the United States – not during the Civil War, not during previous pandemics," said Republican Debbie Lesko, warning it sets "a terrible example."  

Congressman Jim Jordan added that emergency responders, truckers and grocers "can't phone it in, they can't mail it in, they can't proxy their work in" during the crisis. "They have to be there and do it. And we should do the same." 

More than one-third of the House's 430 current members are 65 or older, putting them at high risk for COVID-19. 

The resolution allows an absent lawmaker to cast their vote through a member present on the House floor, provided that colleague casts the lawmaker's vote exactly as he or she dictated. It also allows for remote work in committee. 

(With input from Reuters, AFP)

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