Democrats Deny Pregnant Congresswoman a Proxy Vote in Caucus Leadership

Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a double-amputee war veteran, is unable to travel to D.C.

WASHINGTON - MAY 24: (AFP OUT) Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth waits for U.S. President Barack Obama to arrive to speak during a reception to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the East Room of the White House on May 24, 2010 in Washington, DC. Earlier today the president met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon before giving encouraging remarks to the AAPI community at the reception with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in attendance.
National Journal
Billy House
Nov. 13, 2014, 3:29 p.m.

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.

“Con­gress­wo­man De­Lauro does not want to set a pre­ced­ent. There are many mer­it­ori­ous situ­ations where the ar­gu­ment could be made for a waiver, in­clud­ing Con­gress­wo­man Duck­worth’s. The ques­tion is, how do you choose?” said De­Lauro spokes­wo­man Sara Lonardo.

Proxy vot­ing is not al­lowed in the Demo­crat­ic Caucus, ac­cord­ing to its rules.

But oth­er Demo­crat­ic aides, speak­ing on the con­di­tion they not be iden­ti­fied, said they be­lieve the de­cision to block Duck­worth, 46, from do­ing so is re­lated more to the tight in­tra-party race for the party’s top seat next ses­sion on the En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee. The seat is be­ing va­cated by re­tir­ing Rep. Henry Wax­man.

None of the caucus’s top lead­ers, in­clud­ing Pelosi, are be­ing dir­ectly chal­lenged in their bids to re­claim their posts. But both Rep. Anna Eshoo of Cali­for­nia, who is backed by Pelosi for the En­ergy Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber’s seat, and Rep. Frank Pal­lone of New Jer­sey, who is backed by Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er, are bat­tling to con­vince a ma­jor­ity of House Demo­crats to vote for them.

Duck­worth is among those who have thrown her sup­port be­hind Pal­lone—against Pelosi’s choice of Eshoo.

Against this back­drop, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, also of Illinois, on Thursday offered a mo­tion to al­low an ex­cep­tion for Duck­worth when the caucus votes on its lead­er­ship roster be­hind closed doors Tues­day, and then on its top com­mit­tee posts, prob­ably the next day. In ad­di­tion, mem­bers were read a let­ter from Duck­worth ex­plain­ing her re­quest, ac­cord­ing to mul­tiple sources in the room.

“I write to re­quest your as­sist­ance re­gard­ing up­com­ing votes four our Caucus,” her let­ter states. “As you are aware, I am in the fi­nal weeks of my preg­nancy, and have been in­struc­ted by my phys­i­cian not to travel. As a res­ult, I will not be at­tend­ing the up­com­ing Caucus meet­ings in per­son.”

“I would like to re­quest a proxy vote on the up­com­ing lead­er­ship and rank­ing mem­ber elec­tions that will come be­fore the Caucus in the com­ing weeks,” her let­ter states.

At that point, sources say the re­quest began to be dis­cussed. But ac­cord­ing to an aide, Duck­worth’s re­quest then be­came muddled with an­oth­er made by Rep. Gwen Moore of Wis­con­sin to also be al­lowed to cast proxy votes next week be­cause she will be out on Tues­day for a fu­ner­al.

Ac­cord­ing to one Demo­crat­ic aide, “After that, the mood of the room turned on the mo­tion, with mem­bers real­iz­ing the slip­pery-slope ar­gu­ment that oth­ers had made. Schakowsky real­ized this and pulled her mo­tion. The Moore speech was the pivotal mo­ment for the mo­tion.”

The aide ad­ded, “Ob­vi­ously, [Duck­worth’s re­quest] is a very mer­it­ori­ous case, but the slip­pery-slope ar­gu­ment pre­vailed.”

There is no prac­tic­al way to do secret bal­lot­ing re­motely, said the aide.

But an­oth­er seni­or aide saw the events a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way. The aide noted that the caucus is al­low­ing three mem­bers whose Elec­tion Day races have not yet been called to be al­lowed to vote, as if they’ve won reelec­tion already.

“But here you have a wo­man, a dec­or­ated war vet­er­an who is un­der­go­ing a high-risk preg­nancy, and they can’t sus­pend the rules,” said the aide.

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