The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved an unprecedented change to its rules, allowing lawmakers to vote by proxy for the first time in history because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 217-189 vote fell mostly along party lines, with the chamber’s majority Democrats backing the measure.
The new rule allowed Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call for a proxy vote on a Democrat-backed $3 trillion emergency aid package, which followed an already-enacted $3 trillion aid package to stem the economic effects of the coronavirus.
The proposed new legislation is opposed by Republicans and is expected to be blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Friday’s rule change in the House followed fierce debate between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats argued that it is not safe for House members to return to Washington during the pandemic and said members can use technology to work remotely. Republicans said the Democrats were trying to grab power during a crisis and said the new rules would change the chamber for the worse.
“We should all get to Washington, do our jobs,” said Congressman Bradley Byrne, a Republican from the state of Alabama.
Congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who is the chairman of the House Rules Committee, said, "This House must continue legislating. And we have to do so in a way that is safe for all those around us.”
Under the new rules, lawmakers do not have to travel to Washington and can stay in their home districts. They are allowed to assign their vote to another lawmaker, who will vote for their choice by proxy. The rules allow for House members to cast their votes in the future by direct remote viewing, once the technology is approved.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, had previously proposed a hybrid plan that would allow House committees to work remotely but would still require members to vote in person on the House floor. McCarthy argued that if other Americans had to report to work, Congress members should as well.
Democrats said the rule changes are only temporary and should only be used in times of crisis.