The rules change was approved on Friday in a party line vote, 217 to 189. It came in advance of a vote on a $3 trillion, Democratic-backed coronavirus relief package.
The House also changed its rules to allow for remote and virtual committee meetings, a move that will mean lawmakers will appear at hearings via video. The Senate already has been holding hearings in which some members have been participating remotely.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) dismissed concerns that the rule change would “radically change the House,” pointing to concerns raised when C-SPAN was introduced to carry televised House proceedings. He said that the move was temporary.
“What it is is the use of technology to accommodate the crisis we confront,” Hoyer said.
His counterpart, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) argued that the change the dynamics to the detriment of the minority.
“A vote for this resolution is a vote to abandon this House, to abandon the Constitution, to abandon 230 years of tradition,” he said. “You’ll still have your title. You’ll have no power, and worst of all, your constituents will have no voice.”
Under proxy voting, one member of the House can cast as many as 10 votes on behalf of colleagues.
The House already has been practicing a number of social distancing procedures, including staggering the number of members on the floor as votes are being cast.
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