Imagine what the level of outrage would be if the conservative-based House Freedom Caucus – of which Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher is a member – were to declare solidarity and seek proxy voting on floor issues to spare its members the burden of making House votes in person.
The 40-or-so Republican members seem to talk and think alike, so they might as well vote alike. Right?
But open efforts to create such a voting block would make the Freedom Caucus the butt of jokes on Capitol Hill. If Fulcher, a freshman congressman, presented the idea on his own, he’d be laughed out of the Longworth House Office Building.
Or, more likely, “I would have been led out of there by police escort,” he said.
For sure, the idea of proxy voting on the House floor is unheard of, even by Washington standards. But that was before COVID-19 became a household term.
Now, proxy voting on the House floor is part of standard procedure, thanks to the efforts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic friends. Technically, Fulcher and fellow Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson could do their business in the Gem State without stepping foot in their Washington offices. They could plug into committee meetings online and find friendly colleagues from other states to do their voting for them on the House floor.
Nice gig, if you can find it.
Don’t worry folks, it isn’t going to happen. They will continue casting their votes the old-fashioned way – in person. If it means that Simpson drives from Idaho to Washington to cast a vote – as he did for a pandemic relief bill – then make sure he starts the trip with a full tank of gas.
Simpson and Fulcher are among the Republicans who are suing Pelosi for proxy voting, saying the action is unconstitutional. Democrats argue that House members can set the rules as they see fit and courts have no right to interfere. Get ready for a long partisan battle.
The Idaho representatives offer pointed views on the issue.
“I was elected by Idahoans to represent their voices in Congress. Tying my vote to another member as proxy would not only be abandoning my responsibility to the people of Idaho, but it is sending the wrong message to America,” Simpson said. “We are asking health care professionals on the front lines to risk their lives during these trying times. We are asking our farmers and food producers to continue working so we can eat. I firmly believe that Congress needs to get to work looking for solutions to combat the impacts of COVID-19 to our health and our economy.”
Says Fulcher: “The definition of a representative government is quite clear. It’s not Russ Fulcher allowing Nancy Pelosi to vote for him on the House floor. The people in Idaho did not elect her, they elected me.”
Since April, leaders from both parties have talked about finding ways to allow House members to work safely through the health crisis. Then, out of the blue, Democrats came up with the plan for proxy voting – with the blessing of House doctors.
Fulcher, for one, isn’t buying what Democrats are selling.
“The stated reason is complete and utter poppycock. I can assure you that Nancy is not concerned about my health,” he says. “Things get wiped down every few minutes, for crying out loud. Most people are wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. When we vote, only a few people are on the floor at a certain time. There is no significant danger, and no justifiable cause, to keep the Congress of the United States non-functional.”
When the House went through its first round of proxy voting in late May, not all of the absent members were huddled in their home districts. “There were 74 Democrats in Florida watching the space launch. That was an exciting event, but it was not an emergency,” Fulcher says.
He speculates the “real reason” has little to do with safety.
“The most egregious thing is nothing is being done,” he said. “If nothing gets done in a time of national emergency, there is a good chance that the economy is not going to dramatically recover. And if the economy does not dramatically recover by November, (Pelosi’s) interests have a much better chance of succeeding.”
One of her chief interests, of course, is seeing President Trump out of the White House.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org