Among the first acts by the new House Republican majority, under the leadership of new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), was to end the new practice of proxy voting that had been introduced by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, while most Republicans have supported an end to proxy voting, which allows absent members to cast a vote through a designee, the move could make it more difficult for McCarthy and the GOP to achieve their legislative goals, The Washington Times reported.
That is because, with only a slim majority in the House, Republicans can only afford to lose a handful of votes and still be able to pass bills, meaning more than just a few GOP absences, paired with the restored inability to vote unless present and in-person, could halt the House Republican agenda.
Pelosi introduced proxy voting in 2020
According to Politico in Jan. 2022, House Republicans had immediately registered their opposition to then-Speaker Pelosi’s changing of the House Rules in May 2020 to allow for proxy voting on bills and amendments as well as remote attendance and voting for committee hearings.
That opposition led to a lawsuit by McCarthy and others to force a change back to the old rule requiring in-person voting, but both a federal district court and a D.C. appeals court panel ruled that the federal courts lacked jurisdiction over the internal rules of Congress, and the Supreme Court declined to intervene in the matter.
“Members of Congress should show up to work on behalf of their constituents, just as they have since our nation was founded,” McCarthy spokesman Mark Bednar said in a statement at that time. “We can’t rely on a separate branch of government to make Congress do their jobs as intended by the Constitution, and if Republicans earn back the majority, proxy voting will be eliminated on Day One.”
A known but worthwhile risk
House Republicans ultimately made good on that vow with the new House Rules package they passed once McCarthy had secured the speakership, and the new Speaker was quick to announce on Twitter, “No more proxy voting. Effective immediately, Members of Congress have to show up to work if they want their vote to count.”
The Times now notes that even though many House Republicans realize the potential for that move to backfire on them in the future, they are nonetheless supportive of the restoration of the old rule requiring in-person attendance for members of Congress.
“Proxy voting is an unconstitutional abomination,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) said. “It’s inconvenient. I get it, but we’re doing the people’s work.”
The Times noted that the risk of not having enough members of the slim GOP majority on hand to vote on bills has already been revealed by the fact that Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL), who recently fell off a ladder while cutting tree limbs and injured himself, will be absent from Congress and unable to participate remotely or through a proxy for several weeks while he recovers.
“To a degree, we are rolling the dice, that if five or six people are not here at once, they aren’t all Republicans, but Kevin McCarthy is a man of his word and he’s gotten rid of proxy voting,” Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) said, though he acknowledged that it was worth the risk in the long run.
“It certainly makes it more difficult,” Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) said of the change. “If you look at what happened with Greg Steube, when you have an accident like that or you have something like that, that’s life, but that’s how the House has operated for 116 Congresses. It wasn’t until Pelosi changed the rules on that.”
Proxy voting was widely abused
To be sure, there are legitimate arguments to be made for allowing proxy voting, such as for instances like Rep. Steube’s accident or, as initially intended, for members sick with or isolated from COVID-19, but in actuality, the practice introduced under former Speaker Pelosi was egregiously abused by numerous members of Congress from both parties, according to Business Insider.
Some members used proxy voting not because of the pandemic, but rather to cast votes while on the campaign trail, on vacation, or even from home on an early or extended weekend. That won’t be happening any longer, however, and that should be viewed as a victory for Republicans, even if it does potentially make things more difficult for them over the next two years.