“[I]t is time for the House to end the mask mandate for fully vaccinated members and bring an end [to] proxy voting,” U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks tweeted in May 2021.
“Now that we are lifting the requirement for fully vaccinated individuals to wear masks, we should bring an end to proxy voting and return in-person work!” the Republican representing Iowa’s second district tweeted in June 2021.
“It’s time for the House to follow the science, lift the mask mandate in chamber, end proxy voting, and return to normal,” Miller-Meeks tweeted in February 2022.
Yet over the past two years Miller-Meeks signed five letters designating Republican colleagues to cast votes on her behalf. Most recently, she used a proxy for the final House floor votes of the year, recorded late last week.
PANDEMIC-ERA POLICY NEARING ITS END
The U.S. Senate has not allowed members to cast floor votes while not physically present. But the House authorized proxy voting as a COVID-19 mitigation practice, beginning in May 2020 and continuing throughout the two years of the 117th Congress.
House members wanting to vote remotely were required to file letters with the Clerk’s Office designating a proxy. Those letters all had the same format and nearly identical wording, which included the phrase, “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency […].”
Some House members used proxy voting for the intended purpose. They assigned a colleague to vote for them while quarantining or recovering from an illness, or if they had some health condition putting them at high risk of complications from COVID-19.
On many other occasions, proxy voting became a matter of convenience for those who didn’t want to miss floor votes while attending other scheduled events.
Republicans have promised to end proxy voting when they control the House, starting next week. Many GOP lawmakers have denounced the policy and accused those who used it of not doing their jobs.
HOW IOWANS HAVE USED PROXY VOTING
Records from the House Clerk’s office show two of Iowa’s current representatives never used proxy voting: Republicans Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04). Both have compared the practice to not showing up for work. When a death in the family prompted Hinson to return to Iowa unexpectedly this month, she missed some floor votes rather than designating a colleague to register her position on the bills.
Democrat Cindy Axne (IA-03) used proxy voting six times during 2020, when the 116th Congress was in session, and twelve times during the past two years. Miller-Meeks designated proxies to vote for her five times: in November 2021, and in July, August, September, and December of this year.
Republican challenger David Young cited Axne’s proxy voting in a 2020 television commercial that claimed the Democrat “skips work.” He also accused her of “giving our vote away” to U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin. Fact-checkers found no evidence Raskin had “co-opted” Axne’s positions by casting some votes on her behalf. The attacks didn’t derail Axne’s re-election in 2020.
But the Democrat paid a heavy political price for one of this year’s proxy votes, in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act in August. GOP-aligned groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on broadcast and digital advertising slamming her vote for that bill while vacationing in France. Axne said her trip had been planned for eight months, and it was the only time her whole family could be together. But GOP challenger Zach Nunn and many of the ads accused Axne of lying, because her proxy letter cited the “public health emergency” as the reason she could not be present that day.
The Republican messaging didn’t acknowledge that Miller-Meeks also missed the August 12 vote on the Inflation Reduction Act. Representative Alex Mooney of West Virginia cast her no vote.
Miller-Meeks’ proxy letter contained the same boilerplate language: “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency […].” It wasn’t true: the night before, she’d attended the Major League Baseball game (unmasked) at the “Field of Dreams” in Dyersville.
Miller-Meeks was back in Washington on August 12. Far from impeded by “the ongoing public health emergency,” she chatted with a Capitol Police officer (unmasked) and delivered a speech against the Inflation Reduction Act on the House floor.
Miller-Meeks never publicly explained why she voted by proxy that day. Andrew Solender reported for Axios that some Republicans were trying to “sabotage” the Inflation Reduction Act by getting “as many members as possible to vote by proxy.” The idea was that “a company affected by the tax provisions in the bill” would later sue, claiming the law was unconstitutional because when it passed, a quorum had not been physically present on the House floor.
Whether or not Miller-Meeks was part of that scheme, it’s clear her proxy letter citing the pandemic as the reason for her absence was no more accurate than Axne’s.
And whereas Axne had never denounced proxy voting on principle, Miller-Meeks had done so on several occasions. Her public statements and social media feeds never revealed any COVID-related reason for missing House sessions last November, or during any of the times her proxy letters were in force this year.
For instance, Miller-Meeks designated another Republican to vote on her behalf several times in late September. Her Twitter posts showed her in apparent good health in various public settings that same week—far from “unable to physically attend proceedings” in the House chamber.
Democrats didn’t highlight Miller-Meeks’ hypocrisy on proxy voting during this year’s campaign, probably because Axne’s vote from France had become such a salient issue in the IA-03 race. A week and a half before the election, Axne released her own tv ad defending her vote as a way to “balance work and family” when an important bill came up during a long-planned vacation. Axne noted in the ad that more than 150 House members voted remotely that day.
While that controversy wasn’t the only reason Axne fell about 2,100 votes short in her re-election bid, it surely didn’t help.
Axne and Miller-Meeks were among the 226 House members who voted by proxy on December 23, setting a new record as the chamber approved an omnibus budget bill on the last working day of the 117th Congress. Feenstra tweeted that it was “unacceptable” for half the House to be absent for that vote.
Many who used proxy voting last Friday may have feared an approaching winter storm would disrupt travel home for the holidays. Those concerns didn’t apply to Miller-Meeks. She was in Taiwan as part of a House delegation on December 21, the day a letter bearing her signature informed the House clerk, “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency […].”
Bleeding Heartland could not determine when Miller-Meeks returned from abroad, or whether she could have traveled to Washington to vote against the omnibus budget in person. (Her staff did not respond to inquiries.) GOP Representative John Curtis of Utah, who led the trip to Taiwan, submitted his own proxy letters to the House clerk on December 21 and 22, each time citing the “ongoing public health emergency” as the reason he could not “physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber.”
Since the Republican-led House will soon “return to normal” for floor votes, Miller-Meeks won’t have to worry about justifying her occasional use of proxy voting.
Top image: Screenshot from video of Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ remarks on the House floor on August 12, 2022. Later the same day, Miller-Meeks was absent for the floor vote on the Inflation Reduction Act.