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In 2020, Democrats fundamentally changed the rules of the House of Representatives to no longer require members to meet in-person for committee business or votes on the Floor.

Predictably, this has led to a series of blunders where Members of Congress put their own personal convenience ahead of the job of representing their constituents. Whether it’s a member voting in markup while on a boat or members choosing to skip the Floor for a long weekend, remote proceedings are eroding the public’s trust in the People’s House.

That’s why at this morning’s House Rules Committee hearing, Leader McCarthy submitted the following testimony on the need to end proxy voting and remote proceedings in order to return the House to fully in-person business.

As prepared remarks included below:

“Thank you Chairman McGovern and Ranking Member Cole for holding this hearing.

“From the onset of COVID-19, we all recognized that Congress’ typical ways of doing business would need to adjust. Together, we briefly served on a bipartisan working group to explore how the House could continue safely operating without sacrificing the very qualities that make this institution unique.

“At the beginning, there seemed to be consensus around protecting the intrinsic idea of Congress itself—as a physical meeting place of people and ideas. In fact, the Rules Committee majority staff’s preliminary report on the matter held that ‘by far the best option is to use the existing House rules and current practices.’

“Regrettably, it appears the current Majority has long since abandoned that stance. Instead, it has pursued fundamental changes to how the House functions on a party-line basis, setting dangerous precedents along the way while failing to safeguard against many of the concerns we raised from the start.

“It didn’t need to be this way. Indeed, look no further than the United States Senate for evidence that in-person legislative work is possible during a pandemic. The Senate has managed to maintain in-person Floor voting for the entirety of the past two years—with a much older population and a 50-50 makeup, no less.

“While certain new protocols have shown their merit—electronic submission of bills, amendments, and co-sponsorships, for example—we cannot look past the glaring flaws and potential for abuse ripe inside the current system. Specifically, we would draw your attention to several data points that severely undermine the credibility of Congress as it pertains to (I) proxy voting, (II) remote committee proceedings, and (III) byproducts of the ‘covered period.’

I. Proxy Voting

“From the get-go, we warned that proxy voting would be misused as a means of convenience rather than as a precaution for health—and it has been, by Members of both parties.

“While I am part of an increasingly small caucus of those who have never and will never vote by proxy or carry a proxy, we all know friends and colleagues who have done so while misrepresenting their inability “to physically attend proceedings due to the ongoing public health emergency.”

“Anecdotally, Members have used proxy voting as a means to attend fundraisers, conventions, ribbon cuttings, bill signings, personal events, and more—both inside and outside DC.

“According to data analyzed by the Ripon Society, it appears proxy voting is often used as a way to create longer weekends—with Members voting by proxy twice as often on Fridays compared to Wednesdays, even when some had been physically present on the Floor earlier in the same week.

“We have seen days where 50, 100, and even more than 150 Members have elected to vote by proxy on a measure—for no other reason than accommodating their own schedule.

“In total, 17,263 proxy votes were cast in the 1st session of the 117th Congress—12,500 by Democrats (72.4% of all proxy votes) and 4,763 by Republicans (27.6%).

“Put differently, Mr. Chairman: you have given Members an inch, and they have taken the proverbial mile.

“Whatever the initial intent of proxy voting, enough is enough. It’s time for this body to lead by example, show up to work as Congress has done since its inception, and end proxy voting once and for all.

II. Remote Committee Proceedings

“The second major change under the current Majority is the advent of fully remote committee business. Compared to in-person hearings and markups, any honest assessment would conclude that this, too, is no good way for the House to operate.

“Technology issues have repeatedly marred committee activity, with chairs being forced to recess hearings and markups due to technical difficulties and bandwidth issues.

“Members have been caught on-camera in less than decorous condition, including rolling out of bed, making inappropriate and interruptive comments believing they were ‘on mute,’ and voting while on a boat (yes, seriously).

“Most worrisome, I personally witnessed one incident where the Majority party attempted to deny a Member of the minority from voting on a major drug pricing amendment based solely on the technology platform he was using to participate—despite the fact that the same tech platform was being used by members of both parties before, during, and since said markup.

“Thankfully, the Member in question was able to download WebEx in time to cast his vote, which resulted in the drug pricing amendment failing on a tied vote. However, the Majority’s attempt to manipulate the rules for its benefit in this instance certainly calls into question Leader Hoyer’s pledge that any changes made under the new COVID protocols ‘would not be done to advantage or disadvantage either side.’

“While certain developments warrant further examination—such as permitting certain concurrently agreed-upon witnesses to appear virtually—it is clear that this hastily designed system has proven to be ineffective at best and an abject failure at worst when it comes to the more substantive work that our committees need to perform.

III. Byproducts of the ‘Covered Period’

“Finally, there are lesser-known byproducts of the ‘covered period’ that are slowly eroding the integrity of the institution.

“As Members of the Rules Committee know, the ‘covered period’ has been used to justify the ongoing blockade against certain privileged items, including Resolutions of Inquiry, War Powers Resolutions, and Motions to Instruct Conferees. This prohibition has been extended by the Rules Committee 18 times—totaling over 660 days—in what can only be characterized as a heavy-handed power grab by the Majority.

“Due to the sheer length of time for vote series necessitated by proxy voting, we regularly see hundreds of amendments haphazardly packaged into enormous en bloc packages, debated for twenty minutes, and adopted or rejected wholesale with next to no genuine scrutiny.

“My friends across the aisle might be unaware, but since the proxy system was only set up to facilitate business in the House—and not the Committee of the Whole—the non-voting delegates from Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands, and the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico, have not cast a single vote on the Floor since this process began.

“Finally, this entire process has placed undue strain on institutional staff: the Clerk staff who process the voting cards, the Official Reporters who keep a record of each vote, the Parliamentarians who identify Members by State for the Chair, and more. Each of these individuals now devotes a significant portion of his or her time to managing and facilitating the proxy system at the expense of regular day-to-day duties, increasing the chance for errors or other procedural breakdowns behind the scenes.

“Given this body of evidence, my only question is: will the Majority commit to finally ending the ‘covered period’ when it is next up for renewal on March 30, 2022?

“We know that in-person business is possible when the Majority truly puts its mind to it. Look no further than the vote for Speaker on January 3, 2021, when a majority was compelled to come to the Chamber in-person to re-elect Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as was required since proxy voting had not yet been stood up for the 117th Congress.

“To paraphrase the movie Field of Dreams, ‘if you end it, they will come.’

“Finally, if you do not find my testimony convincing, I would ask you to consider the recent actions of another legislature across the globe.

“Just two weeks ago, we saw true bravery, courage, and patriotism when Ukraine’s elected officials gathered—in-person—to lead their people through conflict.

“It didn’t matter that Kyiv was under attack. It didn’t matter that their parliament was perhaps a key target for Russian forces. Their leaders showed up in-person to deliberate, to legislate, and even to sing their national anthem together in the Chamber.

“I hope their sense of service might inspire each of us to renew our commitment to this institution in which we are privileged to serve—and to do all we can to safeguard it for the next generation.

“I thank my colleagues for their attention to this fundamental matter.”