WASHINGTON – Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called off a Thursday vote on whether to allow House members to cast votes by proxy and is instead forming a bipartisan group to review options for reopening the House during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pelosi announced the delay on a private call with Democratic House members, according to a Democratic leadership aide who was granted anonymity to discuss it.
The move came after some Republicans had strenuously objected to the change, saying Congress should be in Washington and voting in person despite the virus. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy had asked Pelosi to work with Republicans on any changes to the rules.
McCarthy and Pelosi spoke Wednesday morning, according to the aide, and decided to form the bipartisan group. It will review the Democratic plan to allow voting by proxy so that lawmakers can cast votes for absent members. The group will also examine “reopening the House,” which has remained shuttered for the past month due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Members of the House will be still returning to Washington Thursday to approve a $483 billion coronavirus aid package.
Pelosi told Democrats that they will now also vote on the formation of a new select committee to keep tabs on how coronavirus funding is spent. Pelosi had announced that South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat, will chair the committee, but the House must vote for the panel to be formed.
McCarthy wrote Pelosi a letter on Tuesday asking her to “establish a clear, safe, and effective plan for reopening Congress” and to include Republicans in the talks. He said it was time for Congress to get back to work because “our constituents expect us to rise to the occasion."
He questioned the plan to vote by proxy, asking Pelosi: “What are the details of this proposal, how will it avoid potential abuses of power, and when do you expect this proposal to be made public for the necessary scrutiny and member input that changing 200 years of House precedent would merit?”
On Wednesday, McCarthy told Fox News that he had spoken to Pelosi for more than an hour.
“You don’t want to open it all at once you want to phase in,” McCarthy said. “We want to do it a healthy, safe manner.”
The Democratic plan would allow proxy voting on future business during the pandemic, a first for Congress, which has required in-person business essentially since its founding. It would require House members to notify the House clerk of their intent to submit specific instructions to a specific lawmaker to cast the vote on their behalf.
The proxy plan had been considered as an alternative to remote voting, with no lawmakers present. A report by House Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern, who was tasked with studying the options, said remote voting poses too many logistical and security issues to be implemented.
Pelosi announced that the members of the bipartisan committee will include Pelosi, McCarthy, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and the top Democrats and Republicans on the House Rules and Administration committees.
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.