By Jim Jordan May 5, 2020 | 5:11pm
President Trump’s task force has been working hard to fight the coronavirus pandemic and open up America. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has been silent — AWOL, you might say.
Even as the Senate returns to work this week, the House remains shuttered. And now, feeling the heat for their prolonged absence, House Democrats are floating plans that would upend centuries of legislative precedent and concentrate power in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hands.
One Democratic idea would allow a representative to ask a colleague to cast a vote on her behalf, known as a proxy vote. And this proxy vote would count for purposes of a quorum, the majority needed to proceed with business. If implemented, this brainstorm would create a procedural fiction in which a representative would be considered “physically” present in the Capitol when she is home with her freezer full of gourmet ice cream.
The insult to suffering Americans is unmistakable. Farmers are still planting crops. Truckers still deliver goods. Grocers still stock shelves. Front-line health workers work around the clock. These Americans don’t have the luxury of sending a “proxy” to do their jobs. And neither should Congress.
Physical presence is essential to effective, accountable and transparent legislating. Proxy voting would only increase the likelihood of massive omnibus legislation crafted exclusively by the Democratic leadership behind closed doors and presented to other lawmakers as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. This approach puts power in the hands of a small group of Democrats crafting the legislation — and shuts out other voices.
Remote voting also raises concerns about potential abuse. For example, a representative could be considered “present” for official business in the House while simultaneously conducting campaign activities, a potential violation of ethics rules that separate the two. By its very nature, proxy voting separates a representative from the ancient act of casting her vote, diminishing accountability and increasing the potential for coercion or intimidation.
It might also be unconstitutional. The Constitution mandates that each legislative chamber have a majority of members present to do business. In 1892, the Supreme Court ruled that the House can decide for itself how it will count members for a quorum, so long as the body doesn’t “ignore constitutional restraints.” And the high court spelled out what that means: Members must be physically present.
Pelosi acknowledged as much in April, admitting: “There is a constitutional requirement that we vote in person.”
The House has never allowed proxy voting for the chamber’s business. Although the House once allowed proxy voting at committee proceedings, Republicans eliminated the practice in 1995 to increase accountability and transparency over committee work. But even when committees allowed proxy voting, those proxy votes didn’t count toward quorum.
Understanding this history, it is also alarming that Democrats are now moving toward remote committee meetings via video teleconference. Here, too, remote meetings stifle minority rights and amplify majority, Democratic power, limiting the procedural tools available to Republicans and allowing Democratic chairmen to silence GOP members with a simple computer stroke.
The House and its committees can work in person and remain safe. In fact, we did it just two weeks ago, when almost 400 representatives voted on the House floor and two committees met in person. We practiced social distancing, staggered voting and used a lot of disinfecting wipes. Certainly, while the pandemic continues, common sense dictates that we would keep health safeguards in place.
House Democrats haven’t been shy about their goal of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to further their radical goals. Majority Whip James Clyburn called the crisis “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” Pelosi attempted to pump the first stimulus full of irrelevant liberal priorities: the Green New Deal, mail-in voting, single-payer health care. One Democrat even called desperately needed assistance for small businesses “leverage” to pass radical left-wing priorities.
At a time when millions of Americans are worried for their families and their futures, their elected representatives in the House should lead. The first step, the easiest step, is to lead by example — and show up to work.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
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