When the House revamped its rules in the early days of the pandemic to allow lawmakers to vote remotely, Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina was among 161 Republicans who sued to block the arrangement, arguing that it “subverts” the Constitution.
But those objections were a distant memory by late June, when Mr. Norman and several other Republicans skipped town during a legislative workweek to rally at the southwestern border with Donald J. Trump. While they glad-handed with the former president, the lawmakers certified on official letterhead that they were “unable to physically attend proceedings in the House chamber” because of the coronavirus and designated colleagues in Washington to cast proxy votes in their places.
The arrangement might have attracted more notice had it not become so widespread since the House adopted rules last spring to allow members, for the first time, to cast votes without being physically present in the chamber. Once billed as a temporary crisis measure to keep Congress running and lawmakers protected as a deadly pandemic ripped across the country, the proxy voting system has become a tool of personal and political convenience for many House members.
And data suggests that lawmakers regularly use the system to extend their weekends back home. According to outside experts who compiled and analyzed data on proxy voting in the House, its use often ticks up on days lawmakers are scheduled to fly in and out of town. The House returns on Monday after a two-week break; on its final day in session before the recess began, 39 members used proxies instead of showing up in person to vote.
“Congress is like a small town — you miss the whole relationship,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the rules panel, calling the changes so far “the first step on a very slippery slope.”
“As a whip, it’s much more difficult to whip somebody, to persuade them if they are in another place, distant and not part of the give and take,” said Mr. Cole, one of his party’s designated nose-counters, who has himself voted by proxy.