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Two Years Into Pandemic, House Members Eye Proxy Voting As Way To Stay On Campaign Trail

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Sixteen years ago, amid a pitched battle to turn into Florida’s governor, Charlie Crist unleashed a scathing TV ad highlighting the absenteeism of his opponent, then-Rep. Jim Davis (D), showing an empty office chair rolling past Washington landmarks.

After the chair passes the Capitol, the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument, the narrator asks, “If he doesn’t show up for work now, why should we elect him governor?” Crist, then a Republican, won by 7 percentage points.

Almost twenty years later, Crist, now a Democrat, has perfected something Davis could only dream about: being in two places directly, not less than on paper.

That’s due to the U.S. House’s continued use of proxy voting, during which lawmakers allow other lawmakers to solid their vote while they’re absent. Crist used proxy voting to vote for the Inflation Reduction Act in mid-August, at the same time as he had a full schedule of get-out-the-vote events set for the following day in Florida.

With the guts of the midterm campaign season looming in September, Crist’s case shows a tempting use of proxy voting for something aside from public health: to permit lawmakers to skip being within the House in favor of being on the campaign trail.

And with proxies becoming more widely used since 2020, this fall could see an increase in absentee voting as lawmakers weigh the sensible value of being within the House chamber — where votes are frequently seen as predetermined — versus pressing the flesh back home.

‘Physically Unable To Attend’

Technically, House members are only alleged to use proxy voting after they are “physically unable to attend proceedings within the House Chamber as a consequence of the continued public health emergency.” It’s a part of a rules change that was passed in May 2020 to permit members to solid votes even in the event that they couldn’t be present as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is no such thing as a procedure to confirm a member’s reason for using it and no limits on how often proxy voting will be used.

Crist was on no account alone in voting by proxy on the climate and tax bill. House records indicate some 158 members, or greater than a 3rd of all the House, declared they were unable to attend as a consequence of COVID-19 on that Friday in August.

And while Crist could also be a prolific user of proxy voting, he’s on no account alone and even the largest user on the campaign trail. That title may belong to Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who’s running for the U.S. Senate and had given his proxy 42 times in the present Congress, as of late August, compared with Crist’s 23.

Crist’s office didn’t return a request for comment about his use of proxy voting while Ryan said “distant voting” must be a everlasting option. “The 12 months is 2022, we are able to walk and chew gum at the identical time, and members of Congress should have the ability to make use of the technology at our disposal to do our jobs while also meeting face-to-face with the people we serve, caring for kids, and more,” he said.

“We should be together. We should be taking a look at one another. We should be talking to one another.”

– Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)

The job of a member of Congress pays $174,000 a 12 months, often requires in-person attendance on the Capitol only three to 4 days every week, and comes with loads of formal and informal perks. Perhaps that’s why proxy voting hasn’t been embraced by some members, including a few of the old guard.

“The body must be within the constructing,” Rep. Frank Lucas, a 15-term Oklahoma Republican told HuffPost before lawmakers left for his or her August break.

“We should be together. We should be taking a look at one another. We should be talking to one another. And when you’re not physically capable of do this for a two-year period, then perhaps it’s best to assess whether you’re a member or not,” he said.

Not Just Democrats

Republicans have argued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has kept extending the temporary allowance of proxy voting to make it easier for Democrats to win close legislative votes with their narrow three-member majority, and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) has vowed to finish the practice if Republicans take control after November’s midterms.

“For those who give it some thought, that’s the story of this Democrat majority. They’ll destroy our economy and mortgage your future, but can’t be personally bothered to point out as much as make the trip to D.C. to do their jobs. What a disgrace,” McCarthy said throughout the Inflation Reduction Act debate.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) has said the House GOP would prohibit proxy voting in the event that they take control of the chamber after the midterm elections.

Win McNamee via Getty Images

But while Democrats have been rather more open to using proxy voting, many Republicans have lost their initial wariness and begun to embrace it. One Republican, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio), was spotted at a Washington area airport only hours after attending a press conference on the Capitol but before the Inflation Reduction Act vote, during which he voted by proxy.

Based on Brookings Institute researchers, 144 of the then-213 House GOP members had used proxy voting not less than once in the present Congress through December of 2021, a number that’s likely grown since. On average, Republicans voted by proxy 29 times during that period, compared with 54 times for Democrats.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking House Democrat, told reporters in July he sees a necessity for proxy voting, at the same time as he thinks its use may should be tightened to stop abuse.

“I’m not one among those who’s lathered up about proxy voting,” he said. “The pandemic’s not over.”

“There’s little question, nevertheless, that folks are using it for convenience, not health. On each side of the aisle,” Hoyer said. “We’d like to take care of it so we’ve got a policy that may be a rational one but additionally one which lets people be heard after they’re sick or something, or when their members of the family are sick.”

“So it’ll only be in September that it’ll get bad, before the election.”

– Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), former chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee

As a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) has little doubt proxies will likely be used more this fall so members can keep campaigning. On the intense side, the Home is already out of session until the second full week of September and is scheduled to be out for all of October.

“So it’ll only be in September that it’ll get bad, before the election,” he told HuffPost.

Human Nature

Lucas, the Oklahoma Republican, said there are legitimate reasons to make use of proxy voting, and noted he used it himself after his wife had hip substitute surgery.

But he warned about human nature.

“Members of Congress are not any different than normal people. Given an inch, most individuals will take a foot,” he said.

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