GOP lawmakers vote remotely more often after initial scorn

·5 min read

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 50 Republicans who once joined a lawsuit claiming the House’s pandemic-era proxy voting was unconstitutional have themselves voted by proxy this year, remotely without showing up.

Across the aisle, Rep. Kai Kahele, a Hawaiian Airlines pilot as well as a Hawaii congressman, has used proxy votes on all but five of this year’s 125 roll calls. Three of his Democratic colleagues have used the proxy procedure for every vote.

They’re among 303 lawmakers of both parties who have cast votes by proxy at least once this year, according to an Associated Press look at records that reflect how partisan divisions over voting from somewhere else have moderated.

Overall, 191 Democrats, nearly 9-in-10, and 112 Republicans, just over half, have used proxy votes this year, cast by colleagues present in the chamber.

Of the House Republicans who've voted remotely this year, 54 had once signed onto a 2020 lawsuit that asserted it is “simply impossible” to ignore the Constitution’s requirement that lawmakers vote in person.

That litigation was brought by 160 House Republicans led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. McCarthy later told colleagues that if they vote remotely they should not be plaintiffs, and ultimately just one remained on the suit with him, Chip Roy of Texas.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the case in January after it was dismissed by lower courts.

Across the aisle, Rep. Kai Kahele, D-Hawaii, has used proxy votes on 120 of this year's 125 House roll calls. His congressional website says he is “an active commercial airline pilot with Hawaiian Airlines,” flying domestic and international trips on Airbus A330 widebody aircraft.

In a statement, aides said Kahele has piloted three flights this year. Like everyone who’s voted by proxy, he submitted a required letter attesting he was “unable to physically” vote at the Capitol. He cited “the ongoing public health emergency.”

Due to the threat of COVID-19, Kahele, 48, is “concerned for the health and safety” of his communities and family, with whom he lives in “a multigenerational home,” the statement said. A freshman who’s expressed interest in running for governor, Kahele has curtailed his travel to the Capitol but not missed a vote and “maximizes his time back home” by meeting constituents, it said.

The House approved proxy voting on a near party-line vote in May 2020, as COVID-19 began upending everyone's activities. In discordant views on the deadly virus, Democrats called the move a way to keep Congress functioning safely, while Republicans disparaged it as an abandonment of its work.

That first year, seven House Republicans and 175 Democrats used proxies, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. And while GOP participation has grown, the procedure remains more heavily utilized by Democrats.

Of the 125 House roll calls so far this year, Republicans voting by proxy have done so an average of 19 times on each, the AP figures show. Democrats have averaged 28 each.

McCarthy has repeatedly expressed a desire to end proxy voting should Republicans win the House majority in November’s elections, saying it’s time for lawmakers “to show up to work.”

Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently extended proxy voting until May 14. The 100-member Senate, far smaller than the House, has not adopted proxies.

The procedure has helped Pelosi, D-Calif., manage her party's narrow majority by making it less likely Democrats will miss votes, even as top Republicans urge their members to vote in person.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, now running for state attorney general, has cast 61 proxy votes this year, the most among Republicans who'd joined McCarthy's lawsuit. Aides did not return messages seeking comment.

Also evolving is why lawmakers have used the process.

Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, took paternity leave after the birth of his second child in Spring 2021. No. 3 House GOP leader Elise Stefanik of New York was at a Florida fundraising event with former President Donald Trump in January.

Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was among several Democrats at a racial justice demonstration in her state in April 2021 while voting by proxy. That February, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., was in a group of hard-right lawmakers who voted remotely while at a conservative political conference in Florida that Trump attended.

Cawthorn criticized proxy voting in July 2020, tweeting, “Leaders show up no matter how uncertain the times are. The Democrats are cowards for hiding and not showing up to work.”

Cawthorn has voted 57 times by proxy this year, the AP's count showed. He did so 69 times in 2021, according to Brookings, his first year in Congress. An aide declined to respond to questions.

Three Democrats have used proxies for every 2022 vote: Reps. Al Lawson of Florida, Lucille Roybal-Allard of California and Albio Sires of New Jersey. Roybal-Allard and Sires are not seeking reelection.

Roybal-Allard's nearly 77-year-old husband is immunocompromised, a statement provided by an aide said. Roybal-Allard is 80.

Spokesperson Erica Daughtrey said Sires, 71, has remained in New Jersey this year, citing health concerns including his age, his wife's surgery and his own upcoming knee replacement.

Lawson aides did not return messages seeking comment.

The 77 proxy votes this year by Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., are the most among Republicans. In a statement, she said she is an only child and main caretaker for her 86-year-old mother, who became ill last year.

"Without knowing how much time we have left together I want to be there for her,” Salazar added.

Aides to Kahele, the lawmaker and pilot, provided an email exchange in which his staff was advised by House Ethics Committee officials that outside employment was allowed if it didn't interfere with his congressional duties and his earnings met outside income limits.

The email exchanges show Kahele was advised he can vote on issues in which he doesn’t have a “direct personal or pecuniary interest.”

The Honolulu Civil Beat, a nonprofit news organization, first reported in depth about Kahele’s voting and airline job.

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AP data reporter Aaron Kessler contributed to this report.

Alan Fram, The Associated Press

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