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Crist, Running for Governor, Skips D.C. Work Weeks
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Crist, Running for Governor, Skips D.C. Work Weeks

His absence adds to complaints about members abusing the House’s pandemic-era remote options.

Good afternoon. Congress is back after two weeks of recess, and things are going to be busy. 

(That is, for the members who will actually be here.)

Florida Man Takes Remote Work to New Level

Over the course of four months and 125 recorded votes on the House floor this year, Rep. Charlie Crist hasn’t missed a single one, an impressive feat for a lawmaker running for governor. 

But that accomplishment is even more miraculous for a simple reason: Crist has voted in person only four days this year.

According to voting data reviewed by The Dispatch, Crist was present for 18 votes over the course of March 2, March 3, March 8, and March 9. Crist’s colleagues have cast the rest of the Florida Democrat’s votes on his behalf while he has skipped the trek to the nation’s capital.

Instead of voting in person, Crist has taken advantage of the House’s proxy voting rules. Established by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi near the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, proxy voting allowed members to participate remotely for the first time in the House’s history. It was intended as an emergency measure to prevent the spread of the virus and to keep lawmakers and their families safe. 

That isn’t what Crist is using the system for.

Lawmakers who vote by proxy must submit letters citing the ongoing pandemic as the reason for their absence. Crist has not publicly disclosed having a case of COVID at any point in the pandemic, and he wrote in February that it was “time to get back to normal” and live in the new phase of coronavirus “without major disruption to our lives.” His social media accounts, meanwhile, show he has held campaign events in Florida on days he voted by proxy in the House. 

On Wednesday, February 9, for example, Crist announced his campaign’s solar energy plan at an event in Miami. He voted by proxy four times in the House that day. 

And on March 17, when the House was voting to suspend normal trade relations with Russia, Crist was at home in Florida seeking support for his gubernatorial bid at a Pinellas County Democratic Party event. Crist and the Pinellas County Democratic Party both posted publicly about the event on March 18, but the organization confirmed to The Dispatch Tuesday that the event happened in the afternoon on March 17. (One attendee remembers being surprised Crist and most of the other attendees didn’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, but that’s beyond the point.)

Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th District, has been one of the most prolific users of the House’s pandemic proxy voting system in 2022. He ranks sixth among representatives who have voted remotely most often this year, using the proxy system 107 times out of the 125 roll call votes the House has held between January 10 and the first week of April. 

Crist’s office even acknowledges that his proxy voting isn’t related to COVID.

“The Congressman has two important missions: representing Florida’s 13th District in Congress and giving Floridians exhausted by Ron DeSantis’ never ending culture wars a clear choice in November,” Crist spokeswoman Chloe Kessock told The Dispatch Monday when asked about his copious use of proxy voting. “The proxy offers a great way to ensure his constituents’ voices continue to be heard on legislation under consideration in Congress.”

But Crist’s lack of participation extends beyond votes on the House floor. He hasn’t been speaking at most congressional hearings—skipping opportunities to exercise oversight and debate legislation, despite the option to join remotely.

When The Dispatch reviewed this year’s hearings in the committees Crist is assigned to, we were able to find only one public hearing appearance by Crist in 2022. On April 6, he spoke remotely at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget for the coming year. (Crist voted by proxy on the House floor that day.)

Hearings he did not speak at this year include examinations of military housing, defense appropriations, clean infrastructure, federal climate resilience, and an update on NASA’s Artemis program, among others. 

Crist’s absence from D.C. also precluded his involvement in several closed House Appropriations subcommittee briefings with top military officials last month and early this month. For security reasons, the House rules governing remote proceedings prohibit remote participation in closed committee meetings. Kessock told The Dispatch Crist did attend one such hearing, which was held March 9—one of the four days he voted in person. The other five closed hearings took place on days Crist voted remotely.

She added there are committee hearings the congressman attended virtually this year but did not ask questions in. The Dispatch is not able to verify which hearings he may have tuned into without speaking.

“Representative Crist has attended most of his committee hearings virtually,” Kessock said. “Due to the way the virtual hearings are structured, only members who are speaking appear on the screen.”

Crist plans to attend two hearings this week, she said, both appropriations subcommittee hearings on spending needs for the upcoming fiscal year.

Crist, who served as Florida governor from 2007 to 2011, hopes to unseat Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in November. House members who choose to run for other offices are generally less involved in congressional activities during election years, but proxy voting has taken absenteeism to new heights. 

Crist has long used proxy voting beyond its pandemic-specific purposes. He once voted by proxy in 2020 to attend a space launch in Florida, which ended up getting delayed. That instance of abusing remote procedures stuck in people’s memories; Republicans still point to it in arguments against proxy voting today. But until now, the full extent of Crist’s remote voting activity as he campaigns for governor hasn’t been widely understood.

He isn’t the only member to use proxy voting for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. The Honolulu Civil Beat’s Nick Grube reported earlier this month that Hawaii Rep. Kai Kahele has largely stayed in Hawaii this year as he has mulled a gubernatorial bid. Grube was the first to report the total number of times Crist has voted by proxy this year. (Check out the chart at the end of his story to see the 30 members who have used proxy voting the most.) Other lawmakers have voted by proxy during periods of bad health, after giving birth, or, less sympathetically, to attend fundraisers.

House leaders have not closely monitored how members use proxy voting, and none have faced consequences for abusing it. A spokesman for Speaker Pelosi did not respond to The Dispatch’s requests for comment Monday and Tuesday about Crist’s use of proxy voting. Pelosi officially endorsed Crist in the Florida Democratic primary for governor last week, praising his “tireless work in Congress” and his “impenetrable record of fighting for the people of the Sunshine State and delivering results that matter.”

Lawmakers held a hearing on proxy voting last month, debating how to tweak it going forward. Republicans largely want to scrap pandemic remote procedures. They argue it undermines Congress’ ability to legislate and keeps lawmakers from forming friendships across the aisle. Democrats point out the rules have allowed members who are sick or have been exposed to the coronavirus to participate in votes and hearings. 

Yuval Levin, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who has studied how to make Congress work better, told The Dispatch earlier this month he believes Congress should have proxy voting available in emergencies but not as a normal option.

“If the House starts to embrace proxy voting as a matter of course, it will inevitably become less of a face-to-face institution, and fall even further under the control of party leaders,” said Levin. “Proxy voting cheapens the work of legislating—of which voting is only one part—and makes it harder for the Congress to function as a venue for compromise and accommodation.” 

In the meantime, there’s no serious indication Crist plans to spend more time at the Capitol. But when the House convenes tonight, he’ll still manage to have a say, one way or another.

On the Floor

The House is expected to pass legislation this week to make it easier for the White House to send military aid to Ukraine. (You can read more about that bill in last Friday’s edition of Uphill.) House members could consider several other Ukraine-related bills this week, including a resolution affirming support for religious freedom in Ukraine and declaring the policy of the United States to never recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea or “the separation through the use of military force or recognition of independence of any portion of Ukrainian territory.” A full list of bills the House may take up this week is available here.

The Senate this week will advance the nomination of Lael Brainard to be vice chair of the Federal Reserve, among other nominations.

Key Hearings

  • Fresh off his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over the weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified on the department’s fiscal year 2023 budget request before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He will also appear Wednesday afternoon before a Senate panel and a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday morning. In chronological order, information and livestreams here, here, and here.

  • Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee this morning. He will also testify at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Thursday afternoon. Information and livestreams here and here.

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee met this morning to examine the state of the defense industrial base. Information and video here.

  • Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas will testify several times this week. On Wednesday morning, he will appear before a House Appropriations subcommittee to discuss the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2023 budget request. He will also appear before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday afternoon, and the House Judiciary Committee Thursday morning. Information and livestreams here, here, and here.

  • FDA Commissioner Robert Califf will appear before a House Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday morning for a hearing on the agency’s budget request for the coming fiscal year. Information and livestream here.

  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee will meet Wednesday morning for a hearing on McKinsey & Company’s conduct related to the opioid crisis. Information and livestream here.

  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on space situational awareness—with the aim of boosting space debris mitigation—Friday morning. Information and livestream here.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.