Republicans cast doubt on future of House bills passed by proxy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans warned on Wednesday that legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives during the coronavirus pandemic may not become law if lawmakers are allowed to cast votes remotely under a new voting system.

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) delivers remarks during a news conference on the constitutionality of voting by proxy on Capitol Hill, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington, U.S., May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

A day after filing a federal lawsuit to overturn rules allowing proxy voting, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said any bills approved under the new system may be unconstitutional and could be ignored by the Republican-led U.S. Senate.

“It’s playing a baseball game under protest. At the end of the game, we’ll figure out who’s right,” McCarthy told reporters at a press conference. “Whatever the Democrats move forward probably will never … become law.”

For a bill to become law, it must pass the House and Senate and be signed by the president.

McCarthy spoke hours before the first-ever proxy vote, allowing some lawmakers to vote on behalf of colleagues who are absent. The Democratic majority, which approved proxy voting on May 15 in a party-line vote, says the change will allow the House to function while observing social distancing guidelines.

House members began casting proxy votes late Wednesday afternoon on a measure seeking sanctions on Chinese officials over a crackdown on minority Muslim Uighurs. While others voted electronically, the lawmakers casting proxies stepped to a microphone to announce those votes; some cast several proxies.

“As the member designated by Ms. Tlaib … I inform the House that Ms. Tlaib will vote yes,” said Representative Debbie Dingell, referring to fellow Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib. Earlier over 70 lawmakers had notified the House clerk that other lawmakers would vote on their behalf.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, more than 20 Republican lawmakers and their constituents argued the rule change was unconstitutional and diminished their voting power.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is named as a defendant, shrugged off the lawsuit, saying in a statement that Republicans were trying to “delay and obstruct urgently needed action.”

Also named as defendants are the House clerk and sergeant-at-arms.

The suit is also part of a Republican strategy to reinforce President Donald Trump’s push to fully reopen the U.S. economy, while accusing Democrats of trying to gain political advantage.

Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio

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