House Republicans Go to Mats to Force Members to Come to Washington to Vote

Kevin McCarthy’s House Republicans are too tough to let a mere pandemic get in the way of going to work. Photo: Getty Images

After a couple of generations of interminable Republican demagoguing about the evils of Washington, D.C., and the free-spending liberal federal government empire it symbolizes, House Republicans are doing something remarkable: going to court to force members to come to Washington to vote, even during a pandemic. The Wall Street Journal has the story:

Far-flung Democratic lawmakers locked down partners Tuesday ahead of the first proxy votes in congressional history, while Republicans went to court to try to stop the change.

The House is returning to Washington under a new rule that allows a lawmaker to designate a representative to cast a vote on his or her behalf while the country is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic.

The change, made earlier this month, means one member in the Capitol can cast proxy votes on behalf of as many as 10 members who stayed home.

It seems like a common-sense approach to a very uncommon problem, and unlike votes by unanimous consent, it doesn’t necessarily put any pressure on House members to vote the party line.

Democrats defended their decision to vote by proxy, saying it was a common-sense move that would minimize the risk to lawmakers and their staff, as well as people they come in contact with while traveling. According to the House clerk’s website as of late Tuesday, more than 50 lawmakers, all Democrats, have designated a proxy should they not be able to vote in person.

Many of the lawmakers turned to colleagues from districts near Washington, D.C., to be their proxy voter.

You’d figure Republicans would get onboard right away, welcoming the opportunity to spend more time with the virtuous folk back home in the heartland and less inside the satanic beltway, particularly now that their leader has condemned the whole place as the Swamp. But no:

Republicans argue proxy voting, which was passed by Democrats with no GOP support, is unconstitutional. More broadly, they say that Congress has an obligation to meet in person, despite the risks.

There is a technical constitutional argument against proxy voting, though likely not one that would survive the Supreme Court’s reluctance to interfere with the ability of a coordinate branch of government to set its own rules in an emergency. But you get the sense that what’s really driving the Republican right against proxy voting is simply that it reflects the party’s general obsession right now with “reopening” the country to the pre-pandemic status quo ante and brushing aside public-health concerns as a bunch of liberal nanny-state nonsense. As they push people to get off unemployment and go back to work even if they are risking a terrible infection and death, congressional Republicans can’t refuse to “show up for work” themselves, can they?

It’s stupid and entirely unnecessary, of course, at a time when much of the country has already adjusted to working from home where it’s possible. But the message is the message, and with POTUS strutting around Washington without a mask, it’s tough for his troops to “hide” back home.

Republicans Are Trying to Force the House to Vote in Person