WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called off a planned Thursday vote that, if passed, would have allowed the U.S. House of Representatives to vote remotely for the first time in its history.
In a leadership conference call with members Wednesday, Pelosi announced that instead, a bi-partisan group of House lawmakers would review a proposal that would allow lawmakers to designate another member to cast their vote, and to allow committees to meet remotely.
Pelosi has been reluctant to change centuries-old traditions requiring members to vote in person, arguing technology still cannot guarantee airtight security. But the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic have forced a new reconsideration of the rules.
The measure also received opposition from Congressional Republicans, who have increased their calls in recent days to bring the House back into session. The U.S. House has not fully been in session since mid-March.
Rep. Tom Cole, the ranking member on the House Rules Committee, said in a statement Wednesday, “I believe we already have existing tools to continue the people’s work without introducing brand-new, constitutionally untested processes that risk erosion of our normal practice. For even a temporary measure to deal with a crisis today becomes the precedent we follow tomorrow.”
The proposed measure would give the House more flexibility to conduct business in the case of a pandemic like the coronavirus, which has brought warnings against meeting in large groups.
The speaker of the House would first have to declare that a pandemic emergency is in effect, and the authorization would last 60 days.
During that time, a House member may submit a letter specifying another lawmaker who may cast his or her vote after being given exact instructions.
Those designations could be altered or revoked at any time, and a clerk would keep a publicly available list.
For committee meetings, the measure would allow both House members and witnesses to appear remotely, and for lawmakers to cast votes.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer backed the proposal in a call with reporters Tuesday, saying that video conferencing technology could help assure the security of remote voting.
“This virus has forced us to do things in different ways and become radically different in many respects, for the safety and security of the health of all of our country. And therefore, we have to look at ways that perhaps we can still accomplish our business but do it in a way that is safe and secure for our members and for the public,” Hoyer said.