House members will not be voting on whether to adopt a proxy voting system this week when the chamber convenes to vote on the COVID-19 relief bill that the Senate passed, the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced on Wednesday.
Pelosi signed off on a plan last Thursday developed by House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) that would have temporarily enabled members reluctant to travel to Washington, D.C., during the pandemic to empower another member capable of appearing in person to vote on legislation on their behalf.
And Pelosi’s second-in-command, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), told House Democrats on Monday that they could expect to vote on a rule change enabling proxy voting when they assemble in person to vote on the new relief bill. He advised members to plan to be present for those votes on Thursday.
But Pelosi revealed Wednesday that in lieu of a vote this week, she would convene a bipartisan task force to review the proxy voting system.
A senior aide to House Democratic leadership told HuffPost that Pelosi made the decision after consulting with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
“Bottom line here is that the speaker wants a bipartisan solution,” the senior aide said.
Pelosi’s decision not to hold a vote on proxy voting this week indefinitely postpones the adoption of a system that would permit Congress to function even somewhat normally during the coronavirus crisis. Until then, the House ― Democrats’ sole bastion of power in Washington ― is severely limited in its ability to shape the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic havoc it has wrought.
The House has not assembled in person since late March, when Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian-minded Republican from Kentucky, forced an in-person voice vote on an economic stimulus and corporate bailout bill that Pelosi was otherwise prepared to pass unanimously. The House’s inactivity prior to the vote ― coupled with the absence of a system to pass its own bill from afar ― effectively allowed the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Senate to dictate terms of that bill.
The additional delay in proxy voting sparked criticism from proponents of congressional reform who already considered proxy voting inferior to direct remote voting through electronic means, as well as the creation of a digital framework for debate and committee deliberation.
What’s more, McGovern’s staff already published a lengthy examination of proxy voting in a late March report, making additional study unnecessary, those critics argue.
“Speaker Pelosi should have figured this out months ago.”
“Speaker Pelosi should have figured this out months ago,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director of Demand Progress, a leading proponent of remote voting. “Pushing forward on a select committee that cannot meet and a task force that will require the House to reconvene to implement its recommendations is a recipe for continued delays in getting the House, and its committees, back to work.”
A spokesperson for the Congressional Progressive Caucus did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Pelosi’s decision to delay consideration of proxy voting. A spokesperson for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a CPC member who frequently bucks party leadership, declined to comment.
The postponed vote is the latest in a series of decisions Pelosi has made that have prompted public criticism from a host of progressive activists and groups that would normally be reluctant to speak up against her.
After the March relief bill, which created a $500-billion corporate bailout fund under the purview of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, a former hedge fund manager, Democratic leaders assured activists that the next bill would be far better for ordinary workers and their families.
Now the House is poised to vote on legislation the Senate passed that expands small business aid and allots money for testing, but excludes new aid for distressed city and state governments, more food aid for struggling households, the passage of universal voting by mail, rules barring creditors from confiscating relief checks, or a bailout for the Postal Service. Ocasio-Cortez, who represents neighborhoods in the New York City borough of Queens with some of the highest COVID-19 fatality rates in the country, said Monday that she planned to vote against the bill pending major changes.
“It is insulting to think that we can pass such a small amount of money in the context of not knowing when Congress is even going to reconvene ― and pass such a small amount of money, pat ourselves on the back, and then leave town again,” she declared.
A coalition of heads of major progressive organizations and thinks tanks, including the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the National Women’s Law Center and the Center for Popular Democracy, released a joint statement on Wednesday condemning the Senate bill.
“The legislation that just passed the Senate is a small, but wholly insufficient, step in the right direction,” they said. “As a result, many people, families, and communities will remain in dire straits.”
Even Bob Greenstein, the president of the center-left Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which rarely breaks with Democratic leadership, said the bill “falls short even as an interim measure.”
Pelosi also rankled some progressives with her announcement Wednesday that she would stick with her selection of Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) to serve on an oversight panel of the corporate bailout money.
Pelosi picked Shalala, an Education and Labor Committee member with little financial policymaking experience, over Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), a consumer rights attorney and disciple of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who actively sought a post on the panel. Porter, a freshman member on the Financial Services Committee, has made a name for herself with her interrogation of financial executives and Trump administration officials.
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, said Shalala’s apology for her actions had sufficed.
“Congresswoman Shalala has the speaker’s complete confidence,” he said.
Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Revolving Door Project, which monitors executive branch corruption, believes the week’s events have done irrevocable damage to Pelosi’s reputation as a shrewd tactician. (The Revolving Door Project and Demand Progress had called on Pelosi to encourage Shalala to withdraw.)
“For a long time, Pelosi has received the benefit of the doubt from rank-and-file progressives who don’t follow the ins and outs of D.C. and believe that she is genuinely as calculating and knife fighting as portrayed by Kate McKinnon on ‘Saturday Night Live,’” he said. “I think that myth ends this week with a set of defeats too big to overcome by tearing up paper.”