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Republican wanted to vote by proxy but leaders urged against it

Florida GOP Rep. Francis Rooney designated a Democrat to serve as his proxy but has yet to cast any votes by proxy

Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., filed a letter with the clerk designating a Democrat to serve as his proxy but he's not cast any votes by proxy after his leadership urged against it.
Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., filed a letter with the clerk designating a Democrat to serve as his proxy but he's not cast any votes by proxy after his leadership urged against it. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Florida Rep. Francis Rooney, the only House Republican to publicly back Democrats’ proxy voting rule, designated a Democrat to serve as his proxy last week but has yet to cast a vote by proxy after his leadership urged against it.

Rooney, who is retiring at the end of this term and has not been present for House votes in four months, filed a letter Thursday with the House clerk designating Virginia Democratic Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. to serve as his proxy. But as the House voted on a handful of bills Thursday and Friday, including a policing overhaul and a D.C. statehood measure, Rooney was recorded as not voting.

[First proxy votes cast in the House despite GOP opposition, lawsuit]

Rooney’s authorization designating Beyer as his proxy does not expire unless he revokes it — which he has not yet done — so he could still vote by proxy this week if he sends Beyer instructions for how he wants to vote.

Rooney’s office did not return multiple requests for comment.

Beyer told CQ Roll Call he and Rooney have been friends for a long time and so when Rooney reached out to ask him to serve as his proxy he was “happy to, honored to” fulfill his request.

“So far he hasn’t sent any instructions. And the rules are very clear that you have to send instructions,” Beyer said. “I have no idea what the backstory is.”

Beyer said he remains ready to serve as Rooney’s proxy should he reach out with voting instructions.

“He can call me when he wants,” he said. “I have no idea what kind of pressure he may or may not be under.”

It appears Rooney is forgoing an opportunity to vote because Republican leaders, who are challenging the constitutionality of Democrats’ proxy voting rule in federal court, do not want any of their members voting by proxy. Rooney is the only Republican to have designated a proxy and would be the first to use the new House rule if he were to cast a vote by proxy.

A GOP leadership aide confirmed to CQ Roll Call that they have discouraged Rooney and all Republican members from using proxies.

 “Members are strongly encouraged to be present in D.C. for votes on the House floor,” read a GOP whip notice sent last month before the first House vote series since the rule change. “If a member is unable to travel to D.C., they are encouraged to submit their vote positions for the Congressional Record rather than utilizing the Democrats’ proxy voting scheme.”

The GOP lawsuit seeking to invalidate the proxy voting rule is still pending in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, with a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for July 24.

[What’s in a House quorum? GOP wants the courts to rule on that]

While Rooney missed the May 15 vote on the House rule change allowing for proxy voting during the pandemic, he tweeted his support for the measure a few days later. No other Republicans voted for the rule change or have expressed support for it.

“The House was right to pass H.Res. 967, to allow for proxy and remote voting on a temporary basis to ensure the safety of its members, staff, & support personnel that work within the Capitol Hill complex. We are still in the midst of a serious, global pandemic,” Rooney said in the first of two May 18 tweets on the subject.

In the second tweet, Rooney noted that Congress “should utilize all options for conducting business” and that proxy and remote voting procedures allow for members to follow proper social distancing and health procedures during the pandemic.

“We have important work to do over the coming months & it cannot be delayed; however, it isn’t necessary to put people at risk in the process,” he said.

Rooney last voted on February 13, according to the vote record on his website. His absence at votes started before the World Health Organization designated COVID-19 a pandemic, so it’s unclear if the health crisis is why he’s not been in Washington.

Florida is currently experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases, but most members from the state have still been traveling to Washington to vote. Four Florida Democrats have been voting by proxy.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday announced she was extending the covered period for proxy voting until Aug. 18. The California Democrat activated the first 45-day covered period on May 20 and as speaker has the option to continue 45-day extensions for allowing proxy voting and remote committee work so long as the House Sergeant at Arms continues to certify the public health emergency from COVID-19.

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

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