McCarthy faces watershed moment with proxy voting case
“I wouldn’t just use it for power like Democrats,” McCarthy said in an interview, adding that a tool meant to be “tightly controlled” had instead “extended to something we’ve always feared.” .
MPs from both parties cite the pandemic as a reason they cannot vote in person, for reasons unrelated to the virus. From sharing a scene with President Joe Biden to meeting with former President Donald Trump to caring for sick family members, lawmakers have used proxy voting for many purposes. This makes McCarthy’s staunch opposition a promise to get rid of a new system that many members have learned to use as an added benefit, if he becomes a speaker.
McCarthy acknowledged that members had used the proxy voting privilege for non-frivolous health and family situations, but said missed votes are a well-anticipated aspect of the logistical challenge of serving in Congress.
“Members and people understand that there are times when members cannot be here and they are going to miss votes,” he said. “Members are elected to represent their constituents, and they should be here. If they are to be paid, they should be working.
Texas Rep. Chip Roy is the latest grassroots lawmaker in McCarthy’s lawsuit after more than 150 people withdrew their names, and he agrees with a GOP leader he once openly criticized on another pandemic rule. Roy didn’t hold back: “I’m going to be blunt. I wish a few of our guys weren’t using it for non-Covid purposes. “
Roy exuded confidence in the strength of the anti-proxy voting case on the eve of the court ruling, saying his GOP colleagues who were fired as plaintiffs represent a conservative calculation rather than a weakening of conviction within the conference.
“We have reduced the number of plaintiffs simply because it has nothing to do with the actual constitutionality” of remote voting, Roy said, while acknowledging that keeping Republicans on trial who used or could use the vote proxy might be a liability for the party’s argument.
But there is a small group of Republicans who say privately that maintaining the proxy vote if they regain a majority next year would benefit their party. They are, however, aware that the party’s absolutist stance against the tool has doomed its potential for use in the future. There are more than 40 Republican freshmen who served only while proxy voting was an option.
Changing proxy voting “would be the smart thing if you want to be a functional majority. But I think we’re going to limit ourselves, because of the people who wrap themselves around the axis of proxy voting, ”said a senior Republican House official, who spoke candidly on condition of anonymity. “I think the Republicans are very likely to remove proxies on the ground altogether.”
Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) Made a clearer prediction: “Kevin McCarthy filed the complaint and the proxy vote. I know there is no way he will allow it.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), A former Hill staff member who leads his party on the House Administration Committee, lamented that proxy voting has its downsides. He pointed to a loss of connection with fellow Democrats who voted remotely even as those vaccinated can come together and collaborate under reasonably safe conditions.
Known as a conference institutionalist, Davis is an original signer of McCarthy’s lawsuit who never filed a proxy voting letter with the Clerk of the House. He said he knew firsthand how family stressors can make in-person voting more difficult.
“My wife has been a colon cancer survivor for 21 years. I missed a lot of credit votes a year because I never miss his colonoscopy or his exams, ”Davis said in an interview. “And frankly, I think when I had to make that decision, it was a better, more bipartisan, less polarized place here in the House than what we have now.”
Among lawmakers who have used remote voting to bypass family and non-Covid health obligations is GOP conference chair Elise Stefanik, who voted by proxy in the weeks following the birth of her first child. Still, the New Yorker and only female GOP leader reiterated the conference’s opposition to proxy votes.
To vote by proxy, lawmakers must sign a letter with the Clerk of the House and allow another member to vote according to their instructions and on their behalf. The letters of attorney state: “I cannot physically attend the debates in the Chamber of the House due to the ongoing public health emergency.” Lawmakers have signed their names on this attestation even when the reasons for their remote voting are openly unrelated to Covid.
Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson, one of dozens of first-term Republicans who don’t know of a House without remote votes, said if members can’t appear in person then they can make their position on bills with a statement that does not ‘count towards the count.
“Firefighters cannot do their job by proxy. Teachers cannot do their work by proxy. Day care centers cannot do their work by proxy. And we shouldn’t be doing our work by proxy, ”said Hinson, who has vowed not to take advantage of the tool.
Some Democratic lawmakers and staff who support pandemic proxy voting policies have expressed hesitation over its widespread use, but are reluctant to denigrate their colleagues for using it for reasons not strictly related to the pandemic.
“It’s a very selfish and self-centered position, and it ignores other human beings and their lives,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) Said of criticism of proxy voting.
Still, members on both sides of the aisle say a review of voting accommodations for specific mitigating circumstances is in order. Roy said he was open to a “dark” debate over a “constitutional” option, while Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said there would be “discussions about it.”
“The speaker and I have indicated that we think being here in person is preferable. And we said it before we started, ”Hoyer said.
The temporary, but repeatedly prolonged, change in House rules that allowed proxy voting was the most significant update to House voting procedures since the early 1970s – and one that could relax the way of subsequent changes.
House Rules Speaker Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Who led the proxy voting movement, said thinking about voting in a post-pandemic world will require “more conversation.”
“Personally, I think there is merit in understanding that there are reasonable exceptions where members should be allowed to do this after the pandemic,” McGovern said.
“Having said that,” he added, “I don’t want to change the character of this institution. Because I think there is value in people being here. “
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.