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ICYMI: House Administration Ranking Member Rodney Davis Testifies at House Rules Hearing on Proxy Voting and Remote Committee Proceedings

Committee on House Administration Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-IL) Remarks Before the House Rules Committee on Proxy Voting and Remote Committee Proceedings As Prepared:

Chairman McGovern, Ranking Member Cole, thank you for hosting a hearing on this important topic. Or, as I should say, here we are again. 

I sat here two years ago when we first discussed this issue, and I said then that there is not one Member serving today, nor will there be a Member elected in the future that today’s discussion does not affect, and it’s as true today as it was then.

That Members might vote by proxy or participate in the duties of our elected office by video link from vacation homes and fishing boats and, occasionally, in the wee hours of the morning, from the comfort of their own beds are fundamental changes to the fabric of our institution, which has operated in-person since before the American Revolution, following a tradition that began with the Battle of Runnymede in 1215. 

To paraphrase from the English philosopher and writer G.K. Chesterton, sometimes processes exist for a reason, and it make sense to uncover that rationale before tearing them down. And, for Congress, meeting in person is vital for us to be able to accomplish the People’s work. This is one reason why, from the very beginning, many of our colleagues and I have been cautious, if not outright opposed to these departures from important and valuable traditions. 

How dare we be the Members that decide not to show up at the Capitol for the American People? Generations before us—through a civil war, two world wars, horrific terrorist attacks, pandemics, and more—cut no corners in service to the American People. And yet, over the last two years, the Speaker and outgoing majority have—quite literally—allowed Representatives to “phone it in.” And now, we are here today to discuss how proxy or remote proceedings should be continued in perpetuity, not as an answer to a national emergency but as a convenience. Where is our sense of duty and sacrifice?

Now as I sit here again, my worst fears about the effects of proxy voting and remote proceedings have proven true. We have 22 months of proof that proxy voting and remote committee hearings do not serve the American people well, and Mr. Chairman, your own party is experiencing the impact. I would like to share an excerpt of analysis from Punchbowl News in advance of the Democratic Member Retreat last week, for which I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record. 

“The multi-year Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbated the physical and personal distance between lawmakers. Proxy voting, remote party meetings and virtual hearings mean[] House Democrats have spent far less time in the same room with each other for the last two years than they normally would. A lot of Democrats, especially the newer members, don’t even know each other that well. And across the entire caucus, there’s a clear lack of trust. Progressives versus moderates, younger versus older, leaders versus rank-and-file – these are just some of the fault lines inside the party. Legislative and political priorities and prerogatives often don’t line up.” 

Mr. Chairman, you personally predicted that this would be the case. In an e-Dear Colleague from May 13, 2020, you wrote, “In normal times, we work best when we work together, face-to-face, and side-by-side; however, this is an extraordinary time and we must adapt…”

Majority Leader Hoyer had similar sentiments, stating on May 20, 2020, “Let me say at the outset that there is no substitute for the personal interaction of members in a committee room or on the House floor… But when that is not possible—because it poses a mortal danger to the health of members, staff, press and the public—we must provide for alternative ways to do the people’s business.” 

In fact, in the same e-Dear Colleague I mentioned, Chairman McGovern made clear in its Question-and-Answer section the following: “Will remote voting by proxy be a permanent change to the House rules? Would we continue to use it post-pandemic?” 

His response, and I quote: “No. We would temporarily implement remote voting by proxy through a special order resolution that would allow the Speaker to put the process in place for 45 days during a public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus.” Two years later, proxy voting and remote committee hearings remain in effect.

Mr. Chairman, even if such extraordinary measures were required at the beginning of the pandemic when none of us knew how to live with COVID, the pandemic is fading and is no longer a sufficient rationale to prolong this deviation from standard practice.

It has become clear that the Chairman’s words were at best overly optimistic and, at worst, woefully shortsighted. If we were to rely on the promises and assurances given by this Majority then proxy voting and remote proceedings would have ended long ago; yet, in typical fashion, the majority continues to cater to the loudest voices in their caucus, those who have become comfortable with the conveniences of the current system. To be frank, it’s clear that this has more to do with the outgoing Majority’s weak margins in the House than anyone’s health or safety.

President Biden declared earlier this month in his State of the Union address that “Thanks to the progress we have made this year, COVID-19 need no longer control our lives.”  I say it is time that COVID stops controlling Congress as well. 

The state of Congress is not better today than it was two years ago. That is undeniable. Governing is built on trust and relationships. Proxy voting and remote proceedings haven’t only broken down the communication between Democrats and Republicans, they have done so within the parties, within state delegations, and within committees as well. The halls of the House Office Buildings used to be corridors of open doors, fostering the exchange of ideas and common ground. Today, the doors are shut, the halls are empty, and the public is locked outside. 

We are no longer in extraordinary times. We’ve learned to live with COVID, and threats to the continuity of Congress have subsided. It is time to show up and get to work for the American people. Period. If that is not the direction this majority adopts, it can only be assumed that permanent proxy voting and remote committee hearings were the plan from the beginning. If that is the case, I hope you at least will pay the American people the courtesy of telling them the truth, because I can assure you that Republicans are here to work. 

Mr. Chairman, it’s time for Congress to get back on the job—in person. I yield back.

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