Press Release
For Immediate Release: 
March 17, 2022
Contact Info: 
Margaret Mulkerrin 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC - This morning, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) testified before the House Rules Committee on changes to House operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic during their Member Day Hearing on proxy voting and remote committee proceedings. Below is a transcript of his remarks and a link to the video:
 
Click here to watch the video.
 
“As I listened to the previous panel, I thought to myself, you’ll probably all remember, Ben Franklin turning to James Madison and arguing about whether we ought to Zoom or not. The world has changed. Technology is extraordinary and every business in America, every enterprise in America is utilizing technology to its benefit. I think that that is what this really about.

“I do want to say at the outset, I’m sorry that the Ranking Member of House Administration has left, that this is one of the more productive Congresses in which I’ve served and this is my 20th Congress. I’m gonna make a better case for that at some point in time. This representation that somehow proxy voting has made this a less productive Congress is demonstrably untrue, and I will make that case. But not today. I know you all are happy about that.
 
“A lot of talk about proxy voting. This House of Representatives is a relatively, perhaps very, unique body, because we have 435 people who come from every place in America: high-risk, low-risk, and every risk in between. We gather together in a relatively small room for 435 people, so it was uniquely a place where transmission could be very much magnified. Doctor, I’m not a medical doctor, but I think that is self-explanatory. So in answer to an extraordinarily, once-[in]-a-century pandemic, we responded. And we responded by trying to make sure we could keep Members, staff, press, [and] visitors as safe as possible. We don’t know what safe as possible is, but we made that effort. It was the right thing to do, the courts indicated we had the authority to do that, which did not surprise me, and we proceeded. Now the issue is, as we, hopefully, are passing through this pandemic, what do we do?
 
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Chairman and Members, the House – much like the other legislatures around the world and like businesses across America – took steps to adapt our work to the challenges of social distancing, which we were advised to do. We took unprecedented measures to ensure that Members and Committees could continue to do our jobs and serve the American people uninterrupted.
 
“I made the observation on the Floor that my people voted for me. None of them, not a single one of them, cared where I expressed their opinion if it was going to be effective. They didn’t care whether I voted by a machine on my side of the aisle, a machine on the other side of the aisle, or from wherever. That was not in their minds, it was that I was available to express their opinion on a particular issue, which we have allowed Members to do not withstanding their risk aversion or the realities of our health environment.
 
“H. Res. 965 [in] the 116th Congress led to the adoption of measures like virtual committee hearings and meetings as well as proxy voting and longer voting times on the Floor. I think, reasonable steps to take from a health perspective. Those were big changes, which were accompanied by smaller changes, such as the Clerk’s office creating an “e-hopper” – I haven’t heard anything about that, you can file a bill, you don’t have to go. By the way, probably few of you know and particularly Ms. Fischbach, I didn’t know what a hopper was and I was President of the Maryland Senate for 12 years. A hopper is a piece of furniture and it has various levels, you can see it in the old Senate Chamber. I thought a hopper was just a box, why does someone have to personally hand that? They can do it now electronically, the electronic filing of bills and statements for the record, and the Chief Administrative Officer implementing the ‘Quill’ system for electronically collecting Members’ signatures, so you don’t have to go office to office to get the actual signature.
 
“As a result of these adaptations, the House and its Committees were able to meet safely and produce major legislation that helped Americans meet the challenges of the pandemic and address critical national needs over the past two years. And I would say, as an aside to my friends, the polarization has nothing to do with proxy voting - nothing. Unfortunately, this is the most polarized Congress in which I’ve served. I came here in 1981, and I tell people I served on the Appropriations Committee. There were 13 of us on the Labor-Health Committee. Eight Democrats, we were in charge, five Republicans. What I tell people is you could have put us together, throw us up in the air, come down in random chairs, and do a markup and you would have been hard-pressed in 1983 to say which was the Democrat and which was the Republican on the Labor-Health Committee. Sil Conte, from Massachusetts, was the Ranking Member of that Committee.

“Other acts we’ve taken include enactment of the Families First Act and CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan, and essential legislation to fund the government and prevent default of our obligations. I suggest to you that this comment about proxy voting only presumes the outcome would be different if in fact, we preclude somebody from voting if they were sick, if perchance they were absent, as was the case we just saw in our sister body in the United States Senate, when our former colleague Ben Ray Lujan had a stroke and he couldn’t come. Yes, the outcome would have been different. Because it would have been then 50-49 on the other side, should that be the case? Should those people in New Mexico not have been represented because he was fully cognizant, mentally able, he was not physically able for a period of time to come. Should we have said to the [New Mexicans] by act of happenstance, you will not be represented? I think not.
 
“We also, as the Chairman pointed out, passed the infrastructure bill, an extraordinary bill. I frankly think, with all due respect to my friend Tom Cole, I don’t know off the top of my head Tom, how you voted, but we only got 13 Republicans. 19 in the Senate, the percentage radically different, why? Because your leadership said don’t vote for it. And then when they voted for it, we talk about bipartisan, the 13 that did vote for it were criticized and some even suggested removing them from their Committees because they voted for it.  During the time of these changes were put in place, the House passed – I won’t mention the bills but I will go into that at some point in time. 
 
“As infection, hospitalization, and fatality rates have dropped – and as vaccination rates have risen – we’ve adapted by ending the practice of voting by group and reducing voting times on the Floor. So we are moving towards what I think we all want, a shorter period of time. Now let me just say as an aside, the defense bill had over 200 amendments. It is not unusual to have en bloc voting, we’ve always had en bloc voting even since I’ve got here. Now, you do the math: 5 minutes at 209 amendments, that’s over 1000 minutes, a lot of time, as a practical matter a body of 435 tries to accelerate. Doesn’t do it perfectly, and as Mr. Cole pointed out, sometimes there's a bloc and you're not up for two of them and you're put in position and doing them all separately would be better, but it also would be very, very timely.
 
“Other measures, such as the greater adoption of remote working tools, ought to remain in place, in my opinion, Mr. Chairman, because we’ve seen how they help make the House more accountable, transparent, and efficient. While nothing can truly replace in-person work, and I want to emphasize that. The Speaker, myself, at the time we adopted proxy voting, and Mr. McCarthy, all indicated in-person is better, and I agree with that premise, for the reasons Mr. Cole pointed out, [Rep.] Perlmutter, I think mentioned it. But given the technology that we have available to us in this extraordinary age in which we live, we can accommodate not being in person even though that is the preferable and we ought to promote that happening, including as the Appropriations [Committee] does and as you’ve done, Mr.  Chairman, meetings in person. Virtual committee hearings have made it possible, however, to hear from a more-diverse group of witnesses and experts, including those with disabilities who find it difficult to travel to Washington in person, as the sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that’s called a reasonable accommodation. As well as those who cannot make it here because of work obligations or because they cannot afford to travel. That means you can get experts from Europe, from Asia, from Australia, from other places to testify.
 
“Tools like the ‘e-hopper’ and ‘quill’ certainly ought to continue in use, Mr. Chairman, in my opinion. They’re just a use of technology to do what we otherwise had to do by walking from office to office. They’ve been proven valuable to Members and Staff.
 
“With regard to proxy voting, I see a number of cases in which it may be appropriate to continue having it as an option, not as a preference, not as a practice, but as an option, such as when Members may be ill, have to care for a sick loved one, or welcome a new child.  There may also be future cases where national emergencies, [we] talked about Ukraine. I don’t know that they don’t vote by proxy, maybe you do, or by electronic device. But if your Parliament is being bombed, it's probably a good thing to do. If you want a greater consensus, not to make sure that people have to go to some place that's been bombed, and make them very vulnerable to being killed by a criminal thug called Putin.
 
“So, I hope the Committee will explore how proxy voting, now shown to be effective and constitutional, can be incorporated into the House’s work so that no district’s constituents are left out of the full representation they deserve. I would reiterate: no constituent I had in 41 years has ever asked me, ‘Where did you vote from? Did you vote from this machine, that machine, or the other machine?’ Now you will say ‘Well, you're all in the same room.’ They don't care. What they care about is that Steny Hoyer stands up and expresses their views. That's what democracy is about. It's not about place where you vote. It's about voting. It's about expressing their opinion about representation. We ought to be prepared for any eventuality, such as a new variant or viruses merged that is deadlier than for which we do not now have a cure. The business of the House must be able to continue on interrupted. Technology allows that to happen in ways that our Founders had no concept of.
 
“I want to thank this committee. I want to thank the Chairman, I want to thank its Ranking Member, who I think is one of our best members and who works very hard at collegiality I don't have any doubt, Tom, you walked over there and talked to Ms. Pingree and said, ‘Look, listen.’ But very frankly, we can do that on the phone. We can do it as Mr. Perlmutter said – I find Zoom an extraordinary technology that is not in person, but it's like in person because you can interrupt, you can see the smile, you can see the frown. You can see the physical gestures. I want to thank this committee again, and the Chairman and all the Members for the work that you do. We've contended with this pandemic and had to adapt the workings of this institution to meet this challenge. We've done it, there's been no interruption. And as I say, at a later date, I will make the case that this is one of the most productive, to say it's unproductive, is to ignore what we have done for the American people.

“I particularly want to thank Chairman McGovern for his leadership, as well as Staff Director Don Sisson, with whom I've had the pleasure to work [with]. It's been an honor working closely with you in this effort and I hope we can continue to find ways to ensure that the People's House, the People's House represents the people whatever the circumstances may be, and that their voice can be heard. And it's been heard on every vote whether Republicans voted proxy. Yes, they may not have been there but the voice of the people they represented, was heard. When somebody said by proxy, I'd vote ‘aye’ or ‘nay.’ The voices of that district were heard. How much better that is then, by happenstance, the people of New Mexico's voice not being heard on important issues because their Member had a stroke. Not disabled, his mental acuity never lost. That was good for our democracy, it was good for our country and it was good for the Senate and the House. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”