The House Rules Committee plans to move forward with a plan that will allow the chamber to operate remotely for the first time in history, capping weeks of talks to change House rules and allow committees to conduct business virtually and members to vote while away from Washington during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a notice sent to members, the panel is scheduling a Thursday committee meeting to approve the rules change and send it to the full House for consideration by the chamber on Friday. The chamber is also expected to approve on Friday a sweeping coronavirus relief package, amounting to the Democrats’ latest efforts to respond to the economic and public health crisis even as Republicans are calling for a pause to Washington’s intervention. The relief package, called “The Heroes Act,” will be finalized this afternoon is expected to be in the $3 trillion range, a senior House Democratic aide told CNN.
The move comes amid growing concerns from rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans that the House’s prolonged absence from Washington has undercut the chamber’s ability to respond to the growing public health and economic crisis.
The rules change would last during the course of the current crisis and would allow members to vote on the floor “by proxy” – in other words lawmakers would designate another member to vote at their direction and on their behalf. Doing so would significantly reduce the number of members present in the chamber during a vote and allow members who are unable or unwilling to travel across the country to still cast a vote.
The rules change would also provide for procedures so committees can conduct their business remotely, a move that will allow rank-and-file lawmakers to participate given that party leaders have been the ones leading the charge over Congress’ legislative responses to the crisis so far.
The new plan, which has been spearheaded by House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, was abruptly shelved last month by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she pursued bipartisan talks in making an unprecedented change to the House’s rules and procedures. But while Democrats say they’ll accept some GOP ideas, Republican leaders have called for a return to business for the House without changes to the rules.
That means the House is likely to adopt the rules change on a party-line vote.
Under the initial plan presented last month, if members can’t appear in the Capitol, they would provide a “specific instruction” to another House lawmaker to cast the vote in the chamber on their behalf.
“A Member casting a vote on behalf of another Member would be required to have exact direction from that Member on how to vote and would have to follow that direction,” McGovern said in a statement last month about his recommendation.
CNN’s Haley Byrd contributed to this report.