House

House GOP leaders vow to end proxy voting despite widespread Republican use

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) listens to a question during his weekly press conference on Thursday, January 13, 2022.
Greg Nash

House GOP leaders vowed on Thursday that they would eliminate proxy voting if they take control of the chamber next year, even though many of their rank-and-file members have ultimately embraced it.

Republicans uniformly voted against establishing proxy voting as a way for lawmakers to cast votes remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020. But since then, many Republicans have joined Democrats in voting by proxy and removed themselves from a lawsuit filed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) challenging the constitutionality of the practice.

McCarthy has remained opposed to proxy voting despite the fact that many fellow Republicans have warmed to it, including some members of his own leadership team.

That includes Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the House GOP conference chairwoman who has voted by proxy multiple times, including when she gave birth to her first child last summer.

Stefanik maintained that Republicans are voting by proxy because it is currently available to them under the rules set by Democrats. But she affirmed that GOP leaders will not allow proxy voting to continue if they win the House majority.

“We believe in in-person voting. When Republicans win back the House, that’s what we are committed to,” Stefanik said at a press conference with House GOP leaders in the Capitol.

Stefanik compared Republicans’ use of proxy voting to their general compliance with other rules established by Democrats requiring lawmakers to wear masks and undergo security screenings prior to entering the House chamber.

“It’s the rules of the House right now,” Stefanik said. “These are the rules that Nancy Pelosi sets. She sets the mask rule, she sets the magnetometer rules. I oppose both of those rules, but we use them. I use those rules because those are the rules that she has set.”

But there is a key difference between proxy voting and the rules requiring masks and security screenings. Proxy voting is meant to be optional, while the other rules are not.

Lawmakers are subject to hefty fines if they don’t comply with the House floor security screenings or mask mandate.

Many lawmakers have voted by proxy so that they can still cast votes on legislation if they’re unable to be in the Capitol after recently testing positive for COVID-19 or quarantining after an exposure. Several Republicans who’ve tested positive for the virus in recent days even made a point of noting in their public statements announcing their diagnoses that they would vote by proxy.

But some lawmakers have voted by proxy as a scheduling convenience. For instance, several Republicans voted by proxy last year so that they could attend the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida.

McCarthy said that members’ use of proxy voting for reasons unrelated to the pandemic show that the practice is being abused.

“What we have found is members use it for other reasons. But they’re not here to work,” McCarthy said.

“I think people should show up to be paid. I think people should work together across the aisle. And if you’re here, that’s when you can make that happen. And fortunately, in the next year we’ll change that,” he continued.

Republicans initially resisted voting by proxy after Democrats enacted it in 2020 and made a point of continuing to come to the Capitol in person.

But by the end of 2020, several Republicans who were leaving Congress at the end of the year began embracing it.

And after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, more Republicans followed suit due to security concerns with traveling. Since then, the practice has become widespread among both parties.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Elise Stefanik Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi

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