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IN-DEPTH: Are Michigan lawmakers taking advantage of remote-voting rule?

remote voting at events.jpg
Posted at 7:22 PM, Dec 15, 2021

(WXMI) — Put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, proxy voting has allowed U.S. House lawmakers to vote from outside Washington D.C. for well over a year now.

In May of 2020, the House approved a remote voting rule to limit gathering, traveling and to reduce possible transmission of coronavirus.

Now 19 months later with vaccines widely available, most Americans have returned to the workplace, yet many House lawmakers are still choosing to have other members cast their votes.

More than 150 did so on Tuesday alone.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–California) has been a vocal opponent of the rule, saying it is "unconstitutional." He went as far as to file a lawsuit, which was struck down in federal court, but the Supreme Court could review it soon.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–California) has defended the rule saying it's necessary for health reasons amid the ongoing pandemic.

While some have legitimate health concerns, over the past year lawmakers on both sides appear to have taken advantage of the rule, to stay in their district or to attend campaign events.

To vote remotely a member must sign a “proxy letter” that states “they are unable to physically attend proceedings in the House chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.” They then list a colleague who will vote as their proxy.

FOX 17 has found that of the 14 U.S. House members from Michigan, only two, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R–Zeeland) and Rep. Tim Walberg (R–Jackson) have not filed a proxy letter or voted remotely this year.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) filed two proxy letters but has not voted remotely. A spokesperson for his office says Upton "would often drive back from Michigan to vote in person" and initially filed for COVID-related reasons/potential exposure to family friends or staff, who may have tested positive. Upton ultimately did not cast any votes remotely.

Here’s how many proxy letters each member of Michigan’s Congressional Delegation has submitted in 2021:

Rep. Jack Bergman (R-01)- 1

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-02) - 0

Rep. Peter Meijer (R-03) - 1

Rep. John Moolenaar (R-04) – 1

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-05)- 4

Rep. Fred Upton (R-06)- 2* (Hasn't voted remotely*)

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-07)- 0

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-08) – 5

Rep. Andy Levin (D-09) – 6

Rep. Lisa McClain (R-10) – 4

Rep. Haley Stevens (D-11)- 6

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-12) – 7

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-13) - 7

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-14)- 10

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D–Southfield) tops the list with 10 proxy letters, casting more than 20 votes remotely in 2021.

FOX 17 reached out to her office to find out why and haven’t heard back.

Even though lawmakers signed a letter saying they cannot attend in-person proceedings because of the ongoing public health emergency, it’s clear that’s not always the case.

Take May 18th for instance, when Michigan Democratic Reps. Dingell, Kildee, Levin, Lawrence, Slotkin, Stevens and Tlaib all voted by proxy.

The same day they were all seen in metro Detroit greeting President Joe Biden as he deplaned Air Force One and then toured the Ford Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn.

A spokesperson for Kildee’s office told Fox News in May, "Unfortunately due to the pandemic, members of Michigan’s congressional delegation were unable to travel on Air Force One with the President to Dearborn," the spokesperson said. "As a result, Members had to take a commercial flight, hours after the presidential visit ended, that required them to vote by proxy."

"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," the spokesperson added.

A few months later on Nov. 17, Kildee, Lawrence, Levin, Dingell and Stevens all voted by proxy again. It wasn’t a coincidence. The five were back in Michigan for another event with the president, this time at a General Motors facility.

The White House posted a picture of them together at the event:

It’s not just Democrats. Rep. Lisa McClain (R–Bruce Township) voted by proxy this summer while she was at the southern border for an event alongside other GOP colleagues and former President Donald Trump.

Screen Shot 2021-12-14 at 8.57.42 PM.png
Rep. McClain at southern border.

Earlier in the year, other Republican lawmakers caught heat for voting remotely to attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.

“I questioned the constitutionality of it from the beginning, and still do,” says Rep. Bill Huizenga, who believes the remote-voting rule is being abused. “There is no doubt in my mind it is [being abused],” he added.

Huizenga thinks proxy voting abuse is undermining the legislative process, adding there’s value to having members cast their votes in person and debate with colleagues.

“Whether it's a visit with the president, which happened a couple of weeks ago, or whether it's some of my other Republican colleagues who I know have done it out of convenience — and I get it; it's easier to be able to vote without having to physically go to Washington, D.C. — but that's not what our Founding Fathers envisioned,” says Huizenga.

“There’s value to having us all together, so that we can learn and experience things together, which I think makes for hopefully better legislation in the long run,” he added.

While Michigan lawmakers have certainly used the remote-voting rule for reasons other than health related, they haven’t taken advantage of it to the extent of some politicians in other states. For example, Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Ron Kind has submitted 27 proxy letters and has voted remotely more times than that this year.

According to data from Brookings, Michigan's Congressional delegation for the most part is on par with national proxy voting numbers.

The House's remote-voting rule remains in place until Dec. 30. Right now it’s unclear if Speaker Pelosi will extend it once again, or if leaders will tighten rules for when proxy voting is allowed.

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