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story.lead_photo.caption From left: U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, French Hill, Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack.

WASHINGTON -- All four U.S. representatives from Arkansas voted Friday against House rules that would allow proxy voting and remote committee proceedings during a novel coronavirus health emergency.

The four, all Republicans, also opposed a $3 trillion Democratic spending proposal.

Three of the lawmakers gave speeches denouncing the rules changes, which overturn more than two centuries of precedent.

"Tracing back to the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, 9-11 and many others, the House's business has never ceased, even in the toughest times in our country, and it should not cease today," said U.S. Rep Steve Womack of Rogers.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage ┬╗ arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

"Senators are back at work. Our military is on point right now, defending our country in all corners of the world. Doctors, nurses, grocery workers, truck drivers, delivery personnel. They're showing up every day. They are not shirking from their duty, he said.

U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock criticized House Democrats for unilaterally making the changes.

"Rather than taking time to implement a bipartisan plan to safely open this House and our work on the Hill, as suggested by the Republican leader, the House majority is taking the lazy way out," Hill said. "The U.S. Constitution and 200 years of precedence require a physical presence to establish a quorum."

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs said it's inappropriate to allow a congressman to cast votes on behalf of absent colleagues.

"Proxy voting shouldn't happen. Not now. Not ever. If members are unwilling to do their job, they should step down and let someone else do it," Westerman said.

Like his Arkansas colleagues, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro also voted against the rules changes.

"We probably need to bring the institution into the 21st century," he said in an interview Friday. "I think there is an appropriate way to do it. This is not the appropriate way to do it."

Since coming to Congress in 2011, Crawford has introduced legislation that would allow lawmakers to cast their own votes remotely, in some circumstances.

Delegating that responsibility to a third party is more problematic, he suggested.

"I don't believe that this is anywhere close to a workable solution to try and address the continuity of government in a crisis situation and I don't think it is going to pass muster constitutionally," he said.

Friday's speeches and votes took place in a Capitol that was nearly deserted. There were no spectators in the public galleries. The press gallery was nearly empty as well.

The House hasn't spent much time in Washington, D.C., since March 27, when it passed a $2.2 trillion covid-19 aid package. House members returned briefly on April 23 to approve an additional $484 billion in assistance, then swiftly dispersed.

Though supportive of the initial rounds of covid-19 relief, the Arkansas delegation balked at adding another $3 trillion in spending.

"I think it's premature," Hill said in an interview. "We should be evaluating the $3 trillion that we've already approved, make sure it's been [distributed] appropriately throughout the economy and then ... see if there are gaps and then work in a bipartisan way to meet those gaps."

Crawford portrayed the package as irresponsible.

"It is a lot of money. Money that we don't have, by the way," he said.

Rather than working with Republicans to get something done, the Democrats would prefer to play partisan games, Crawford said.

"This is ... an opportunity for the speaker [Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.] and others to take advantage of this calamity for their own personal political ends and I find that to be repugnant," he said.

Westerman criticized the bill, saying it would provide aid to Planned Parenthood and the marijuana industry, while also mandating changes to state election systems and the criminal justice system.

"I think it's just a wish list that the speaker put together and called us back to vote on," he said.

Womack said the legislation is not a serious effort to alleviate the affects of the pandemic.

"People need to read the bill. They need to see how it federalizes elections, how it benefits illegal aliens, how it forgives student loans," he said. "It's chock full of a whole lot of things that are totally unrelated to covid-19."

A Section on 05/16/2020

Print Headline: State delegation rejects changing House vote rules

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