US House considers proxy voting during coronavirus crisis

FILE - In this March 18, 2020, file photo, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol are seen in Washington, at sunrise. Congress is considering ways to govern from afar during the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers are talking this week about whether it's possible to conduct virtual committee meetings, particularly to oversee how the $2.2 trillion stimulus money is being spent. And they're considering ways to pass virus-related legislation without requiring every lawmaker to be present. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
FILE - In this March 18, 2020, file photo, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol are seen in Washington, at sunrise. Congress is considering ways to govern from afar during the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers are talking this week about whether it's possible to conduct virtual committee meetings, particularly to oversee how the $2.2 trillion stimulus money is being spent. And they're considering ways to pass virus-related legislation without requiring every lawmaker to be present. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – With Congress essentially closed, House Democrats are proposing a temporary rules change during the coronavirus crisis that would allow lawmakers to vote remotely via another lawmaker physically present at the U.S. Capitol.

The rare move, which would require a vote for passage, is being presented Thursday during a private Democratic caucus conference call as anxious lawmakers clamor to bring Congress back on line during the stay-home shutdown.

“Congress needs to be working,” wrote Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., chairman of the House Rules Committee, in a statement proposing the change.

As outlined, the proposal tries to steer clear of setting up new technological platforms that could be vulnerable to hackers, and it prevents blanket proxy voting, as some have suggested.

Instead, 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, he said.

“We don’t know how long this pandemic will threaten public health, or how long state stay at home orders will last,” McGovern wrote. ”We should not wait for this pandemic to end to make changes to the rules that help us to do our jobs in such an unprecedented time."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who tasked the chairman to consider options, is backing the effort, her spokesman said.

Congress has been all but shuttered since late March, and far-flung lawmakers are sheltering at home like other Americans. The House and Senate are meeting for pro forma sessions every few days just to avoid fully adjourning, keeping the door open for passing critical legislation. Congress is not expected to return before May 4.