More than 70 House Democrats voted by proxy Wednesday for the first time in the chamber’s 231 year history after sweeping rule changes granted Speaker Nancy Pelosi unprecedented powers and allowed members to vote from home.
Citing health concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, two House members that voted by proxy Wednesday skipped out on their constitutional duties in Washington to attend the historic space launch in Florida, which was ultimately postponed until Saturday due to inclement weather.
“I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency,” Florida Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist explained in a letter to the House clerk delegating another Florida lawmaker to vote in his place.
On Wednesday afternoon however, Crist said he was in Florida enjoying the “watershed moment for American space exploration” at the launch.
Looking forward to attending today’s historic manned @SpaceX launch to @Space_Station – the first from American soil since 2011 and first ever on a commercial spacecraft. Huge step for space exploration and Florida! pic.twitter.com/EHhF5U8F5M
— Rep. Charlie Crist (@RepCharlieCrist) May 27, 2020
Another Florida Democratic Congressman, Darren Soto, wrote the same letter to the House clerk explaining that the “ongoing public health emergency” is keeping him from Washington to cast his own vote. Soto however, missed no opportunity to attend this week’s launch at the Kennedy Space Center.
— US Rep. Darren Soto (@RepDarrenSoto) May 27, 2020
House Republicans filed a lawsuit late Tuesday evening to block the Democratic power-grab they argue disenfranchises individual members and grants unconstitutional authority to the House Speaker during the pandemic.
Under the new House rules, opening up the chamber to operate virtually by proxy voting and online hearings, Pelosi can unilaterally extend the House’s emergency procedures every 45 days without a vote of approval. In contrast, the Senate’s pandemic operating procedures require a full-chamber greenlight every 30 days.
“Through the Civil War; through the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812 and the terrorist attack on Washington on 9/11; and through the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 and the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, the Congress of the United States has never before flinched from its constitutional duty to assemble at the Nation’s Capital and conduct the People’s business in times of national peril,” the lawsuit from House Republicans reads.
The rules allowing for proxy voting Republicans argue, violate the Constitution’s mandate that the nation’s assembly actually assemble.