I suppose part of the not-breaking news here is that Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D – Illinois 8th) is pregnant. She is expecting in the near future, and her doctor has advised her not to travel in the final weeks of her pregnancy. Unfortunately, that meant that she would miss some key Democrat caucus votes as they settle on their new leadership for the next term. In order to get around this problem, she asked to be allowed to vote by proxy. As National Journal notes with great umbrage, the answer was no.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who is expecting a baby in December, is being denied a request to vote by proxy in the House Democratic Caucus leadership and committee member elections next week—even though her doctor advises she can’t travel to Washington in the late stages of her pregnancy.
The Iraq War veteran, who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in 2004, made the request in a letter to fellow Democrats. Her letter was read during a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting on Thursday. But objections were raised, and the request was denied, with opponents including Democratic Steering and Police Committee cochair Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Some are immediately suspicious about the motives for denying this request, particularly with all the maneuvering going on as key positions change hands. National Journal goes above and beyond the call – as other already have – to point out that she’s an injured Iraq veteran. And she’s a woman. And she’s going to have a baby. If there were any way possible to somehow blame the operations of the House Democratic Caucus on the Republicans we would have already seen more than a thousand claims regarding the War on Women.
Unfortunately, this is all the Democrats’ doing. But there are other complaints about the handling of this, such as those noted by Doug Mataconis.
It’s worth noting that Duckworth isn’t asking to be allowed to vote via proxy on the House floor here, although it’s likely that she will miss at least a few key votes during the lame duck session as she waits for her baby to be born and, of course, afterwards. In this case, all Duckworth is asking for is the ability to be able to cast a proxy vote in the Democratic Caucus leadership election, an important vote no doubt but it seems to me like this is one where there ought to be a way to deal with situations like this.. I’m not sure what the comparable rule in the Republican Caucus, or in the party caucuses in the Senate, happens to be but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the same. That ought to change. There are perfectly reasonably ways, including the use of a designated courier and affidavits, for there to be in abstentia voting in situations like this. If that’s not practical because the voting might go more than one round for a given position, then Duckworth, or any other member who has an appropriate excuse for an absence, ought to be able to give her proxy to a member she trusts to exercise in her stead. Insisting that she appear in Washington or lose her vote in this situation seems absurd to me.
To start off, let’s be clear about one thing here. Nobody is discriminating against Duckworth. It’s not as if this is the normal routine and they suddenly chose to shut her out because she’s not voting for the right person, or because she’s a veteran, or because she’s pregnant. The rules of the caucus say you have to be there in person to vote. She asked for the rules to be waived and the request was not granted. The reason given – where do we draw the line – isn’t exactly an unreasonable one.
Absent any other considerations, I can see the point Doug is making. Could they do this differently? Obviously. Any member could assign a proxy for their vote with the understanding that the responsibility for how that vote is cast remains on their own shoulders. For that matter, this is the 21st century. They could Skype in over a laptop and express their preference. But that’s not how the rules are written. Perhaps they were written that way because they wanted the members to actually be there in person to hear the various speeches and arguments for and against the many candidates in case they might be swayed by the debate. Maybe they’re just honoring an old tradition for tradition’s sake.
The point is, the caucus has rules. And if you make exceptions for one or two you’ll have a hard time turning down the next fifty requests. If enough of them want to change the rules to allow proxy votes, they can change them. If not, stop complaining and play the game as designed.