The US House of Representatives took the historic step Friday of allowing its lawmakers in quarantine or otherwise affected by the coronavirus pandemic to vote remotely by proxy.
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.
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The Democratic measure, which passed the House 217 to 189 largely along party lines, is aimed at allowing Congress to keep working while helping prevent the spread of a virus that has killed 87,000 Americans.
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.”
The new rule will remain in place only for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
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.