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House Republicans Sue Speaker to Block Proxy Voting Rule

May 27, 2020 by Dan McCue
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) participates in a weekly press conference with Republican House leaders at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON – House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, along with 20 other Republican lawmakers sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Tuesday night in a bid to block the first proxy votes in congressional history.

The House is returning to Washington Wednesday to vote on a bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has already passed the Senate, along with a bill to change elements of the Paycheck Protection Program that was created to help small businesses during the pandemic.

But they will do so under a new rule that allows a lawmaker to designate a representative to cast a vote on his or her behalf while the country is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic.

The change, made earlier this month, means one member in the Capitol can cast proxy votes on behalf of as many as 10 members who have stayed home.

As of Tuesday night, 58 Democrats had sent a letter to the House Clerk announcing they intend to vote by proxy Wednesday and that they have authorized another member to vote on their behalf.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told The Wall Street Journal ahead of the Memorial Day weekend that he intended to vote on behalf of eight of his fellow members.

Meanwhile, Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., told the newspaper that he planned to make a spreadsheet for the people he will be voting for and how they want him to vote. So far, he said, he’d said yes to serving as proxy for nine of his colleagues.

But in a lawsuit filed last night in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Minority Leader McCarthy and his fellow Republicans claim the new voting rules are unlawful because the Constitution requires a quorum of lawmakers to be physically present in order to conduct business.

“This week, House Democrats will break over 230 years of precedent and allow members of Congress to vote by proxy on the House floor,” McCarthy said in a written statement. “This is not simply arcane parliamentary procedure. It is a brazen violation of the Constitution, a dereliction of our duty as elected officials, and would silence the American people’s voice during a crisis.”

In a background call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, an aide to the House Republican leadership said, “each individual member of Congress has had their vote unconstitutionally diluted by this proxy vote and their constituents have had their representation in Congress diluted by this unconstitutional House Rule.”

“Voting by proxy — giving your vote, as a member of Congress, to another person — is just simply not allowed and not envisioned in the Constitution. It’s a non-delegable power and that proxy vote is prohibited,” the aide said.

Speaker Pelosi responded to the filing of the lawsuit, saying “the House made its will clear two weeks ago when it voted to implement remote voting by proxy and other necessary measures to ensure that Congress can continue to protect lives and livelihoods.

“The House’s position that remote voting by proxy during a pandemic is fully consistent with the Constitution is supported by expert legal analyses. Further, the Supreme Court made clear over a century ago that the Constitution empowers each chamber of Congress to set its own procedural rules,” she concluded.

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