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House to Vote on Allowing Members to Use Proxies, Opening Door for Full Remote Voting

"We ought to use this time as an opportunity to prepare for Congress to be able to work according to its full capabilities even with social and physical distancing guidelines in place."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), center, looks at Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), right, as McGovern speaks during a news conference on Monday, March 9, 2020.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), center, looks at Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), right, as McGovern speaks during a news conference on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images)

The House is expected on Thursday to vote on a measure allowing members to vote remotely via proxies for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak crisis, a proposal that could be a solution to legislative gridlock exacerbated by the House's extended recess due to the pandemic which has made it unsafe for Congress to meet. 

Rules Committee chair Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) explained the proxy rules change to the New York Times in an interview last week. 

"This is what we're comfortable with doing now that I think poses the least amount of risk," McGovern told the Times. "For those who feel they want to be here and engage in debate, they can come back, but for those members who are in states where they are instructed not to leave their homes or not to travel, they can still participate."

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), in a letter to the chairs of the House Committee on Rules and the House Committee on Administration, said he sees the implementation of the new rule as a first step in virtual, remote voting for Congress.

"Beyond implementing the proxy voting as a first step, we ought to use this time as an opportunity to prepare for Congress to be able to work according to its full capabilities even with social and physical distancing guidelines in place," wrote Hoyer.

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Hoyer acknowledged challenges and security risks to the process, but expressed confidence that lawmakers could find a solution. 

But, as the Washington Post reported Tuesday, there are technological hurdles in front of representatives.

"Many members of Congress probably couldn't handle two-step authentication from their laptops," a senior House Democratic aide told the Post. "We have conference calls where people can't even mute themselves or get off mute. There's a big tech gap that's going to be problematic."

And even if the House can manage to make the virtul meetings work, the aide added, there are Constitutional concerns.

"If this is challenged in the courts and we've passed 40 laws that have been enacted and the Supreme Court invalidates them all," said the aide, "that's a nightmare."

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