Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, one of two Democrats to oppose the $1.7tn spending bill that averted a US government shutdown on Friday, did so by voting “present”. But Tlaib was not present at the Capitol, voting instead by proxy.
Proxy voting was instituted during the Covid pandemic and is due to come to an end on 3 January, in the new Congress with Republicans controlling the House.
On Friday, as a huge winter storm bore down on Washington, threatening flights home for Christmas, 226 House members cast proxy votes on the omnibus bill.
Republicans say they will get rid of proxy voting. According to the minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, “In 11 days … [we will] return the House back to a functioning constitutional body by repealing proxy voting once and for all.”
On Friday, some on the right of the GOP, a faction McCarthy must woo if he is to win the speaker’s gavel, claimed the large number of proxy voters on the omnibus bill meant the required quorum was not achieved and the bill could thus be challenged. The chair rejected such claims.
One high-profile rightwinger was among those who voted by proxy. As reported by Business Insider, a vacation in Costa Rica meant Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia skipped in-person voting on the spending bill and other events this week, including the address to Congress by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
By Saturday, Greene was taking heat not just for proxy voting, having introduced a bill to ban the practice earlier this year, but for holidaying while other Georgians endured power outages and plunging temperatures.
There was enough anger to go around. Politico observed that though it understood many members of Congress were not “super thrilled to be in Washington with Christmas in two days … more than half of the chamber skipping out on the most basic duty members face – showing up to vote – is a poor showing, especially given the pandemic rationale under which the system is meant to be used”.
The spending bill passed by 225-201, with Tlaib the lone “present” vote and four Republicans not voting.
Tlaib said: “People are demanding we take meaningful action in providing relief and protection during this public health emergency. This bill does not go nearly far enough in providing that help and support.”
She was joined by another high-profile progressive, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The New Yorker said she voted no because the bill contained a “dramatic increase” in immigration enforcement spending which “cuts against the promises our party has made to immigrant communities across the country”.
Nine Republicans supported the bill. Seven are leaving Congress, among them Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the two anti-Trump Republicans on the House January 6 committee.
Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Steve Womack of Arkansas supported the bill and will remain in Congress. In the new House, Politico said: “Democrats will surely be getting to know the two of them better.”
McCarthy used a long speech on Friday to play to the rightwingers he needs to be speaker, railing against “a monstrosity” of a bill he said was filled with “leftwing pet projects” and “one of the most shameful acts I’ve ever seen in his body”.
Nancy Pelosi responded with remarks she said were probably her last as speaker.
“It was sad to hear the minority leader earlier say that this legislation is the most shameful thing to be seen on the House floor in this Congress,” the Democrat said.
“I can’t help but wonder, had he forgotten January 6?”