House proxy voting ratchets up tensions between Democratic and GOP lawmakers

Judith Zeng

Shouting and heckling broke out on the House floor Wednesday afternoon as leaders from both parties expressed frustration with votes going far over the scheduled time limit, highlighting the tension over the continued use of proxy voting.

After a 15-minute procedural vote on several bills took nearly 50 minutes, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) urged lawmakers to show up on time and not leave in order to move the legislative process along, especially in light of a defense bill that included over 600 amendments in need of votes. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) stepped in to call for the end of the pandemic exception that allows members to cast votes on behalf of their colleagues, which he said is to blame for the body’s inability to maintain a schedule.

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“I want to make it clear to the House that I have asked the leadership, the Speaker’s office, to join with me in assuring that five-minute votes are five minutes,” Hoyer said, which prompted cheering and boos from the assembly. “My colleagues, invariably that announcement brings cheers, and invariably that cheering comes after 10, 15, 20 minutes have elapsed on a 5-minute vote. […] Now for those of you who are casting proxies, I ask you to cast them immediately upon the vote opening so we can process the proxies at the desk.”

Shouts of “no proxies” erupted from the Republican side, with Hoyer responding, “Ladies and gentlemen, yelling at one another doesn’t help to bring self-respect to this institution.”

McCarthy stepped to a podium to agree with Hoyer that votes need to move faster but said keeping votes under five minutes would be impossible without ending proxy voting. Voting by proxy adds to vote times because members casting multiple votes have to orally tell the clerk, instead of punching the voting machines.

“You can continue to wear your mask and vote in person, but I don’t see how you’re going to do a five-minute vote with proxies,” he said. “And I understand the lecturing you’re giving to everybody, but on this side of the aisle, we’ll be here to vote, and we’d gladly like to do it the way every other Congress has done it in history.”

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The debate over House proxy voting has been divisive since it was introduced as a COVID-19 pandemic measure in 2020. Many Republicans hold that the practice is unconstitutional and cite abuses by members who use it to avoid coming to Washington, D.C. However, most Republicans have also made use of the practice. It is one of the last pandemic provisions in place, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) extended the allowance until Aug. 12.

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