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Nation & World

House Democrats Slam Brakes On Plan To Allow Remote Voting, Hearings During Pandemic

The chamber of the House of Representatives is seen at the Capitol in Washington. Leaders are discussing next steps for how to conduct business like voting and committee hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.
The chamber of the House of Representatives is seen at the Capitol in Washington. Leaders are discussing next steps for how to conduct business like voting and committee hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the face of Republican opposition, House Democrats have backed off plans to consider unprecedented rule changes to allow members to vote and hold hearings remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The House Rules Committee released a nine-page resolution with plans to send the measure to the House floor for approval Thursday. The House was already slated to meet Thursday to consider a nearly $500 billion coronavirus response bill.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democratic House leaders Wednesday morning she was pulling the plug on the remote voting plan.

Pelosi, D-Calif., said after a call with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy they would task a bipartisan group to study the idea, a Democratic leadership aide told NPR.

"The House will no longer consider remote voting by proxy this week," the aide said.

Earlier, Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said proxy voting and remote hearings could address potential lockdown concerns later this year as a result of a second surge in coronavirus cases.

"We cannot risk Congress grinding to a halt because of this virus. We need to act," McGovern, D-Mass., said in a statement.

Now, Pelosi and McCarthy are moving forward instead with the bipartisan task force, which will include McCarthy, McGovern, House Rules ranking member Tom Cole, R-Okla., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. It will also include House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and its ranking member, Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

Last month, the rules panel issued a report on remote voting options. Pelosi had raised concerns for remote voting, but the low-tech version of proxy voting appeared to have growing support.

The rules plan outlined by Democrats would let designated members cast votes on behalf of their colleagues who are unable to travel to Washington, D.C., during the pandemic. It would also let House committees hold hearings and markups remotely via a technology platform of their choosing.

Past attempts to push through remote voting options have faced fierce opposition. Several years after 9/11, the House finally approved a lower threshold of floor quorums — a required number of members needed to be present — during national emergencies.

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise on Tuesday had urged his party to vote yes on the coronavirus spending bill, but no on remote voting because of concerns it was being rushed.

"The Speaker is choosing to capitalize on the crisis and jam through a rules change that could have serious constitutional and institutional repercussions," according to a statement issued by Scalise's office.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.