House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Republican leaders over plans to use a remote voting system as a “sad stunt” and accused her GOP colleagues of “dangerous obstruction” as the nation reels from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The House approved a slate of historic rule changes on party lines earlier this month that would allow lawmakers to vote by proxy without being present in the chamber for the duration of the crisis. Under the procedures, any lawmaker not in Washington can designate another member who is present to vote for them, a change Democrats argue is necessary to keep members safe while still able to do their jobs.
But Republicans argue those shifts go against the Constitution, which mandates lawmakers be “present” to cast a vote. More than 20 Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), sued Pelosi and other congressional officials earlier Tuesday over the move, calling it a “brazen violation of the Constitution” and a “dereliction of our duty.”
Pelosi rejected their arguments in a pointed statement, accusing the GOP of being focused on delaying “urgently needed action to meet the needs of American workers and families during the coronavirus crisis.”
“The House made its will clear two weeks ago when it voted to implement remote voting by proxy and other necessary measures to ensure that Congress can continue to protect lives and livelihoods,” the California Democrat said in a statement Tuesday night. “The House’s position that remote voting by proxy during a pandemic is fully consistent with the Constitution is supported by expert legal analyses.”
She continued: “As our nation approaches the heartbreaking milestone of 100,000 lives lost to COVID-19, House Republicans must stop their dangerous obstruction and join Democrats to save lives, defeat the virus and grow the economy.”
The notion of voting remotely or by proxy is controversial, even as Congress debates how to operate in the coming months amid the pandemic. More than 1.6 million people in the U.S. have been infected with the virus and the country is closing in on a major moment in the crisis: 100,000 deaths across the nation.
But The New York Times notes any suit is likely to be an uphill battle as the courts have generally allowed Congress to set its own rules.
Despite those concerns, McCarthy said Tuesday the move broke more than 230 years of chamber tradition and warned such rule changes could lead to other lasting effects. The Republican leader noted more than 60 Democrats have already written to the House Clerk to nominate a proxy this week.
“Those numbers can and will grow, while the number of members who cast votes in person shrinks,” McCarthy said in a statement earlier Tuesday. “Ultimately, as few as 20 members could control the vote of over 220 members under this rule for the foreseeable future.”
He continued: “The Speaker’s reckless and partisan decision to adopt proxy voting was done despite unified opposition from the minority and even members of her own party. This is a serious matter that will damage the integrity of the House’s actions now and in the future.”
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