House Republicans jostle over proxy voting after Florida trip
Several House Republicans’ decision to use proxy voting while attending a political conference in Florida has touched a nerve with their colleagues, prompting a larger debate about whether GOP lawmakers should take advantage of a system that they are challenging in court.
During a GOP conference meeting on Tuesday, Texas Rep. Chip Roy called out fellow Republicans who voted “by proxy” against the Democrats’ Covid relief bill last week in order to attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, according to multiple sources present.
With House Republicans actively suing Democrats to stop proxy voting, which allows lawmakers to vote through colleagues if they can’t be physically present in the Capitol, Roy argued that the GOP needs to practice what it preaches. The speech earned him “raucous applause,” according to one Republican member.
“Proxy voting is an unconstitutional attack on a functional Congress — allowing members to avoid their responsibility to meet in DC to do their jobs,” Roy said in a statement to POLITICO after the Tuesday meeting, citing the new rules Democrats have implemented since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“But even a number of my GOP colleagues are now complicit and have given in to the Democrats’ recklessness,” he continued. “If, as I do, you believe it’s unconstitutional — and wrong — then you shouldn’t do it, even if it’s hard.” Roy added that he is reminding Republicans “them of their obligation to stand strong.”
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), while he is opposed to the idea of proxy voting, later argued during the meeting that Republicans are putting themselves at a political disadvantage if they don’t use the system, especially with such a slim Democratic majority in the House and a floor schedule that often changes during the pandemic.
“I think it’s wrong, but it’s a fact of life,” Bacon, who represents a key swing district, said in an interview. “We could win some votes. You’ve got to use it to your advantage.”
“We’re getting rolled,” he added. “In the meantime, [Speaker Nancy Pelosi] is getting the upper hand.”
But House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy sided with Roy on Tuesday and expressed his displeasure with proxy voting, noting that House Republicans have spent $500,000 on their lawsuit thus far, sources said. More than a dozen Republicans tapped someone else to vote on their behalf while attending CPAC, including Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.), Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and Matt Gaetz (Fla.).
Earlier this year, McCarthy gave his members permission to use proxy voting in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, as some lawmakers were harassed in airports and other public spaces. However, he told GOP members who decided to vote by proxy to take their names off the lawsuit so as not to undermine the party’s legal efforts.
Democrats instituted the voting method in order to limit lawmakers’ travel and step up safety precautions during the pandemic. The GOP began immediately crusading against the historic rules change, arguing that proxy voting was unconstitutional and could permanently damage the institution.
Yet as Democrats have repeatedly extended the use of the system, Republicans’ desire to fight proxy voting has significantly waned. Now, there are just 21 Republicans left on the lawsuit — down from 160 GOP plaintiffs when it was initially filed last May. (Twenty-seven of those members have since left Congress.)
Republicans heading to Florida for CPAC is only the latest example of lawmakers using the voting method for reasons not necessarily related to the pandemic or safety. In May, Republicans blasted a pair of House Democrats for voting by proxy the same day that the duo attempted to attend a SpaceX launch in Florida, though that event was rescheduled.
Gaetz, for his part, has publicly spoken out in favor of remote voting. He argued in a Washington Examiner op-ed in November that the practice curbs the influence of lobbyists and allows lawmakers to spend more time in their respective districts with their constituents.
“I support remote voting because we are better as public servants when we spend more time with the public we are elected to serve,” wrote Gaetz.
The issue has increasingly become a point of contention inside the House GOP. Last year, several retiring Republicans — including former Reps. Paul Mitchell of Michigan and Francis Rooney of Florida — ruffled some feathers for voting by proxy. Rooney was even kicked off the GOP Steering Committee over his routine absence from the Capitol.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) — who is still on the GOP lawsuit and remains adamantly opposed to proxy voting — said he has even refused to vote on behalf of his colleagues, which he quipped has made him “some enemies.” In order to use the voting system on the House floor, lawmakers need to submit a letter to the House clerk and designate someone as their proxy.
“I’ve turned people down,” Burchett said, “because it would be disingenuous of me.”