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.