House Democrats voted by proxy while in Michigan for Biden visit

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
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Correction: Rep. Lisa McClain has not voted by proxy. An earlier version that stated she voted by proxy in February has been corrected.

Washington — Seven Michigan Democrats traveled to Dearborn to take part in President Joe Biden’s visit to a Ford Motor Co. plant while Congress was meeting Tuesday, casting votes remotely by proxy with each citing the “ongoing health emergency.”

The seven lawmakers cast four roll-call votes by proxy late Tuesday afternoon and evening after participating in Biden’s event at Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center earlier in the day. 

Republicans and Democrats alike have been criticized for using the proxy voting system while being absent for reasons that appear unrelated to COVID-19.

In non-COVID times, Michigan's delegation probably would have been invited to travel on Air Force One with Biden to and from Washington, D.C., returning in time for some of the votes.

But due to pandemic restrictions, the lawmakers were unable to do ride with Biden, according to aides in multiple offices, including Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township. 

Instead, most members took the next commercial flight hours after the presidential visit that did not land in time for votes, so they cast their votes by proxy, the aides said. 

"Congressman Kildee was honored to attend with the president, whom he has been working closely with to expand electric vehicle production and create good-paying jobs in Michigan," said Mitchell Rivard, chief of staff for Kildee.

"Rep. Lawrence was grateful she had an opportunity to be a part of President Biden’s ‘Future Made in America’ event to show the rest of the country how the path to building back better starts with Michigan," said Cody Sibulo, a spokesman for Lawrence.

“At the invitation of the White House, Rep. Slotkin joined the president and other members of the congressional delegation for the unveiling of the Ford F-150 Lightning to highlight Michigan’s ingenuity and manufacturing prowess," said Austin Cook, spokesman for Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Holly, who voted by proxy all week. 

"She voted by proxy, pursuant to House Resolution 8 and in accordance with House rules.”

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Voting by proxy was offered by Democratic leadership as an option starting last May for House members who wished to avoid traveling to Washington due to the coronavirus pandemic to protect their health or others. All congressional Democrats have now said they are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Lawmakers sign a letter and file it with the House clerk, naming another member to cast a specific vote at their direction. The proxy letters state that the lawmaker is “unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency."

"Proxy voting must end, and lawmakers should return and do their jobs," Republican freshman Rep. Lisa McClain of Bruce Township tweeted Friday after The Detroit News reported on her colleagues' Tuesday votes. "We are here to represent the people, voting by proxy takes away that representation."

Members of both parties have been called out for using the proxy voting system to their advantage — attributing their absence at votes to the public health emergency while out of town for reasons seemingly unrelated to the pandemic.

In February, about a dozen House Republicans used proxy voting while in Florida for the CPAC conference, prompting allegations of hypocrisy from Democrats. That's because GOP lawmakers last year had sued over the proxy voting system, claiming that it is unconstitutional because the Constitution requires a quorum.

In another example, a pair of Democratic House members proxy voted last year while at a space launch, drawing criticism from GOP officials.

Former Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden signed onto the GOP lawsuit but later in the year voted by proxy after Congress returned from Thanksgiving break. Mitchell, who has since retired from Congress, said at the time on Twitter that his doctor had “implored” him not to travel to Washington due to his asthma. Mitchell disaffiliated from the GOP in December.

Michigan Republicans have also submitted letters to vote by proxy this year, including Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, in addition to McClain. Bergman also joined the GOP lawsuit against proxy voting.

Among the votes that the Democratic lawmakers cast by proxy Tuesday was for a rule governing debate and consideration of two measures — a resolution condemning the March 26 shootings in Atlanta and a bill to boost the supply of drugs to treat opioid addiction.

Two of the seven Michigan House members were in Washington the night before Biden's trip for Monday one evening vote — Kildee and Lawrence. The rest also voted by proxy Monday evening.

mburke@detroitnews.com

Staff writer Craig Mauger contributed.

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