House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is defending her caucus' decision to bar the pregnant Rep. Tammy Duckworth from voting in the party's leadership elections this week, saying she’s not sure what all the “fuss” is about.
Duckworth, a 46-year-old Illinois Democrat who lost both her legs in the Iraq War, had penned a letter to Democratic leaders asking for permission to vote by proxy after her doctor prohibited her from flying back to Washington following the midterm elections, out of concern for her health.
Pelosi said making an exception for Duckworth could set a precedent that would eventually become a headache for party leaders.
"The rules of the caucus are the same as the rules of the House — no proxy voting — and [allowing Duckworth to vote] would require changing rules of the caucus as different from rules of the House. She understood that full well," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
"The fact is that we don't know what's going on in the lives of many people. I think one of our members may be having an operation this week," she added. "You're going to establish a situation where we're going to determine who has a note from the doctor that's valid or not. It's really a place we shouldn't go."
Pelosi raised eyebrows last week when she emerged as a leading opponent of Duckworth's request, not least because the California liberal has made women's empowerment issues — including efforts to bolster family leave for working women — a central plank of the Democrats' policy platform.
Her decision also led to speculation from some Democratic aides that the move was designed, at least in part, to help Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) win her race against Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) for the ranking member spot on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.
Pelosi has enthusiastically endorsed Eshoo, a close ally, despite Pallone's seniority on the panel, and Duckworth had vowed to back Pallone.
The Democrats' leadership elections are slated for Tuesday, with committee elections to follow shortly afterwards.
Pelosi, didn't mention the Eshoo-Pallone contest Monday, but said she spoke with Duckworth — "a lovely conversation" — and urged her to savor the experience of becoming a mother.
"I was one of the ones who said to Congresswoman Duckworth, 'Don't come back here. This is a most glorious experience of your life, the center of the universe will change for you when you have this precious new baby,' " Pelosi said.
"I don't know why all this fuss was made about a vote in the caucus."
Pelosi also emphasized that she picked Duckworth to sit on the special panel investigating the Benghazi tragedy.
"We wish her well," Pelosi said. "She's a heroine to our country."