House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Monday that she is extending the vote-by-proxy period to Aug. 18, saying the coronavirus crisis is still too hot to force lawmakers to come back to the Capitol to participate in legislating.
The move also gives a boost to Republicans who are suing to stop her designated-voter scheme, because it means there will still be a live controversy at the end of July, when a federal judge is slated to consider the matter.
Mrs. Pelosi, in a brief note to House members, said there’s still a public health emergency stemming from COVID-19, which she said justifies the designated-voter scheme.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican, blasted Mrs. Pelosi for her “unilateral decision.”
“Our work on behalf of the American people is the definition of essential work—now more than ever,” he and fellow GOP leaders wrote. “We have demonstrated that in-person voting—and the accountability that comes with it — can be done in the House of Representatives in a safe and responsible manner.”
Democrats say the designated-voter idea is needed because the coronavirus makes it unsafe for some members to return to Washington. Rather than shut down business or act without those members, Mrs. Pelosi came up with a plan to let them assign their vote by proxy to another lawmaker who will be present.
They pushed the plans through on a party-line vote in late May.
Proxy voting is optional, but has proved popular, at least for Democrats. Seventy Democrats have already taken advantage of the system, assigning their vote to a colleague who then casts the vote for them.
Republicans say all of those votes are suspect and could be called into question if the courts strike down the designated voter scheme.
In their lawsuit, Republicans say Congress managed to conduct business during the 1918 flu, the War of 1812, the Civil War and the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They questioned why the coronavirus pandemic required the new procedures.
The Senate is also meeting regularly during the pandemic, which the GOP members said undercuts Mrs. Pelosi’s fears.
They also said Democrats are abusing the rules, which are intended to cover those “physically unable” to be in the Capitol. One Democrat used the proxy to attend a space launch, while another used it to cover for “family obligations,” the GOP leaders charged.
Under the rules Democrats adopted, the House speaker can declare an emergency and announce a 45-day window where proxy voting is allowed. Her original designation in May was to expire later this week.
Her Monday announcement extends the deadline another 45 days.
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