US lawmakers vote by proxy in historic first

Washington (AFP) –


US lawmakers cast proxy votes for the first time ever on Wednesday, in a contentious coronavirus-era procedure that has drawn sustained criticism from congressional Republicans.

Some 70 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted remotely on a measure condemning China's human rights violations.

The use of proxies in the House -- the Senate has not approved such changes -- upends more than 200 years of congressional precedent.

The new rules, passed this month along party lines, will remain in place only for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

The procedure aims to allow lawmakers to keep working while helping prevent the spread of a virus that has killed 100,000 people in the United States.

Democrats argue that it would jeopardize the lives of colleagues, staff and the general public to require lawmakers to repeatedly fly between their home states and Washington to convene in person during a health emergency.

Republicans framed the change as an unconstitutional power grab that could allow a small minority of lawmakers to control legislative action in Congress.

Proxies may cast votes for a maximum of 10 colleagues in the 435-member body.

"It could allow as few as 20 representatives to control the votes of 220," McCarthy tweeted.

Currently, 218 votes are required for a majority in the House.

"This is NOT the representative democracy our Founders envisioned or what our Constitution allows," McCarthy said.

Republicans filed a lawsuit Tuesday in a bid to halt proxy voting. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the move a "sad stunt."

California Democrat Zoe Lofgren was the first member to vote remotely.

Her proxy, Democrat Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, approached a microphone and declared that, pursuant to the new rules, "I inform the House that Miss Lofgren will vote 'Yea'."

A handful of US lawmakers have already become infected with and recovered from COVID-19.

Many members wear masks in the House and Senate, and strict social distancing guidelines are in place during votes.