Dear Colleague: Resolution Introduced to Ensure Congress Can Continue its Work During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Resolution Introduced to Ensure Congress Can Continue its Work During the Coronavirus Pandemic

May 13, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

This is an extraordinary time. We have lost tens of thousands of our fellow citizens to a terrible virus, and many more are suffering economically. This is not a time for Congress to be on the sidelines. Our institution needs to be able to fully function precisely at moments like this.

Conversations examining how Congress can better respond to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic have been ongoing for months. I have personally spoken to dozens of Democrats and dozens of Republicans, and I have been educated by those conversations. As you know, Speaker Pelosi recently formed a bipartisan task force as part of this effort to reach a compromise on temporary emergency rules. I was honored to join Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), my friend Rules Committee Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK), Committee on House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-IL) on this effort. We met for the last several weeks discussing how to respond to the crisis.

While the task force did not reach a consensus on the whole package, we were able to incorporate several Republican ideas that have strengthened our proposal, particularly in regards to hearings and floor voting. It is my hope that we will see bipartisan support for this resolution to ensure Congress can continue to legislate during the pandemic while adhering to public health guidelines. We must seriously consider the health and safety of those we represent, and the people who work with us. And I am convinced we have crafted a resolution that does just that, while at the same time respecting the traditions of our institution.

Legislating nearly always involves physically gathering together in one place, but if nothing else the world has learned over these past few difficult months that people need to be able to do their work in novel ways in times of emergency. Congress is no exception. We have to use the tools at our disposal to adapt – if only on a temporary basis. Legislatures around the country and the world have come to that conclusion, and it is time for us to do the same.

Our proposal, which I expect we will vote on this week, would temporarily allow committees to conduct their official business remotely and would allow transparent remote proxy voting on the House Floor for Members unable to travel to the Capitol. Importantly – and based on several members’ feedback – we are not allowing general proxy. Each vote cast, including procedural votes, must be explicitly directed by the member.

The resolution also directs the chair of the House Administration Committee in consultation with the Ranking Member to study the feasibility of using technology to vote remotely in the House, and to provide certification upon a determination that there is operable and secure technology for remote voting. This would provide a path forward for Members to cast their votes remotely using secure technology during a public health emergency should that prove to be a better option in the future.

While no legislation is perfect, this proposal takes into account the varied opinions of countless members. It was developed in consultation with Constitutional scholars, healthcare professionals, the Parliamentarians, and technological experts. It addresses many of our colleagues’ concerns while ensuring that Congress can conduct oversight on recently passed legislation as well as fulfill its ongoing legislative duties, like funding the government and further responding to COVID-19.

In normal times, we work best when we work together, face-to-face, and side-by-side; however, this is an extraordinary time and we must adapt, just as past Congresses have done before us. No one knows what the future will bring, but our ability to continue legislating must remain beyond question.

For details on our proposal, you can find the text of the resolution here and a summary here. Finally, below are answers to some common questions I have received.

Thank you for your continued advice and counsel amid this terrible crisis. Please continue to share your ideas with me on this or any other matter.

Thank you for all your work,

                         James P. McGovern


                         Committee on Rules


Remote Voting by Proxy:

Q: Will remote voting by proxy be a permanent change to the House rules? Would we continue to use it post-pandemic?

A: No. We would temporarily implement remote voting by proxy through a special order resolution that would allow the Speaker to put the process in place for 45 days during a public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus. The authority could be renewed or extended as needed through the end of the 116th Congress.

Q: Can we modify this process later, improve upon it, or get rid of it altogether?

A: Yes. The process can be modified later, but it cannot be extended past the end of this Congress without further action. 

Q. Can I vote remotely by proxy immediately after the House adopts this resolution?

A: No. The resolution and accompanying regulations lay out what must occur in order to trigger this system, including the Sergeant-at-Arms notifying the Speaker of an ongoing public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus and a 24-hour notice period before final passage votes so that Members may secure proxies. These important steps cannot be completed on the same day the House adopts the resolution.

Q: How will I select my proxy?

A: It will be up to you to determine who your proxy will be; however, no Member can hold more than ten proxies. We will coordinate with the Democratic Whip’s office and the rest of Democratic Leadership to ensure that Members receive guidance and assistance navigating the process of securing a proxy. I hope that my Republican colleagues will do the same.

Q: What does the process look like to designate a proxy?

A: To vote remotely by proxy, you must first submit a signed letter to the Clerk authorizing another Member to vote on your behalf. The letter should be emailed to the Clerk’s office from a House account. There will be at least 24-hours’ notice before any final passage vote to ensure you have time to do so. We will send detailed instructions outlining the process after the vote on the resolution on Friday.

Q: Can I revoke or change my proxy?

A: Yes. You can revoke your proxy with a subsequent letter to the Clerk or by simply showing up to vote in person and you can change your proxy with a letter to the Clerk.

Q: What happens if there are unexpected votes like a motion to adjourn or votes for which text wasn’t available, such as an MTR?

A: The House would hold the vote open for sufficient time to allow you to send voting instruction to your proxy. You should ensure that you are available to respond quickly to a vote notice any time the House is in session.

Q: How will votes be taken?

A: Members serving as proxies would first announce from the floor during the vote how each Member who has designated them as a proxy will vote.

Members serving as proxies would then vote using well cards, writing “by proxy” next to the voting Member’s name, and votes would be announced as the cards are received by the tally clerks. Without exact direction from you, your proxy cannot cast a vote on your behalf.

Q: How will floor debate work?

A: Floor debate would work as normal and would depend on how the bill is being considered (e.g. by unanimous consent, under suspension, or under a rule). Deliberation would occur in the chamber. If you have a statement on a bill but aren’t physically present, you can put your remarks in the record under general leave using the new electronic system established with the Clerk’s office.

Q: With remote voting by proxy, would a quorum of Members need to be present in the Chamber for the vote?

A: Members voting by proxy would count towards a quorum.

Q: Will Delegates be able to vote using this new system?

A: The same House rules that apply under current practice with respect to Delegate voting will apply in any remote voting system. 

Q: How will my vote appear if I vote remotely by proxy?

A: Votes would appear as normal in the vote tally, and a list of Members who took those votes by proxy will appear following the list of yeas and nays in the Congressional Record.

Q: What if the proxy misses vote?

A: If a Member agrees to serve as a proxy, it is their duty to appear for votes. Members are responsible for watching the floor proceedings and ensuring their proxy voted correctly on their behalf – each vote will be announced twice, once by the proxy before casting the vote and once by the clerk. If your proxy appears to be missing a vote, you need to alert floor staff as soon as possible and before the vote closes.

Remote Voting Through Technology:

Q: Does this resolution allow for the House to vote remotely on the floor through technology during the public health emergency?

A: Yes, in the future if the technology is certified by the House Administration Committee. The resolution directs the chair of the House Administration Committee, in consultation with the ranking member, to study the feasibility of using technology to vote remotely in the House and to provide certification upon a determination that there is operable and secure technology for remote voting on the floor.

Q: Would we have to vote again after this determination is made?

A: No, as long as it was made during this session of Congress. A vote on this resolution would temporarily allow remote voting through technology once the chair of the House Administration Committee provides the certification, the chair of the Rules Committee issues regulations, and the Speaker notifies the House she is authorizing remote voting to be used during the public health emergency.

Virtual Committee Proceedings:

Q: Is this a permanent change?

A: No. This authority is temporary and lasts for the duration of a 45-day period during a public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus, which can be renewed or extended. Also, this is not a change to the standing rules of the House, but rather it is a standing order of the House being put in place for the duration of this session.

Q: What platform will committees use to conduct remote proceedings?

A: The resolution does not specify technology that must be used; however, the platform must be approved by the CAO.

Q: Can committees operate completely remotely?

A: Yes. Under this resolution, committees can hold hearings, markups, depositions and other business meetings with every Member participating from a separate location or under a hybrid approach with some Members participating remotely.

Q: Can committees choose not to operate remotely?

A: Committees are required to ensure the ability of members to participate remotely, to the greatest extent practicable. However, committees are not required to hold entirely remote proceedings and they must meet certain benchmarks before conducting remote markups.

Q: Will committees be provided with uniform guidance on how to hold remote proceedings?

A: In addition to the requirements included in the resolution itself, remote proceedings will be governed by regulations that Chairman McGovern will submit to the Congressional Record providing committees with specific, uniform instruction on conducting remote proceedings.

May 13, 2020