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During Run for Governor, Tom Suozzi Has Voted in Person Just Three Days in 2022
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During Run for Governor, Tom Suozzi Has Voted in Person Just Three Days in 2022

Experts worry abuses of proxy voting will make it more difficult for the House to consider health and family accommodations.

Good morning. We’re bringing a special Wednesday edition of Uphill your way today. Our SCOTUS reporting superseded this story yesterday, and we knew you wouldn’t want to wait all the way until Friday for another look at House proxy voting abuse.

Suozzi Among Three Democrats Relying on Proxy Voting Amid Gubernatorial Campaigns

It’s officially a trend: Another Democratic lawmaker is among those using the House’s pandemic voting system to skip work in Congress this year while eyeing a governor’s mansion.

New York Rep. Tom Suozzi has more than aspirations for statewide office in common with Reps. Kai Kahele and Charlie Crist: He’s been overwhelmingly voting by proxy in the House this year, enabling extra time face-to-face with voters. 

The Dispatch’s analysis of Suozzi’s votes in 2022 is striking: He has voted in person only five times since the start of the year, over the course of three days in January. 

Suozzi voted in person once on January 18, once on January 19, and three times on January 20.

Beyond those three days, Suozzi has had colleagues cast votes on his behalf under the House’s proxy rules 134 times out of 141 roll call votes in 2022 thus far. (Math whizzes might notice that 134 proxy votes plus five in-person votes adds up to just 139 votes, not 141. Suozzi missed two votes on March 9, not weighing in at all on two questions that reached the floor that day.)

This is the first time the total number of votes Suozzi has cast in person this year—and when he cast them—has been reported.

Suozzi, Crist, and Kahele have all been remarkably absent from the nation’s capital since the beginning of 2022. Crist and Suozzi have been actively running for governor in Florida and New York, respectively, for months. Kahele has been contemplating a bid for Hawaii governor and is reported to have told senior House Democrats last week he’ll be launching his campaign soon.

Until last week, Kahele had voted in person just five times and on only three days this year, all in January. And The Dispatch found last week that Crist has voted in person only four days this year, casting 18 votes in person on March 2, March 3, March 8, and March 9.

To take advantage of proxy voting, they have all been submitting letters explicitly citing the pandemic as the reason they cannot travel and fulfill their duties in person. 

But in the months since his last physical appearance at House votes, Suozzi has been holding campaign events around New York in the crowded Democratic primary race for governor.

In early April, the Honolulu Civil Beat first reported the number of times Suozzi had voted by proxy in 2022 at that point, and a couple of weeks ago Syracuse’s Spectrum News identified three instances where Suozzi held campaign events on days he voted by proxy in the House.

Suozzi was apparently undeterred by that report: The Dispatch’s review of his activities found he was campaigning in New York last week when the House was in session and he was voting by proxy.

On April 28, when the House was passing legislation to make it easier for President Joe Biden to send military aid to Ukraine, Suozzi was on the campaign trail and didn’t try to hide it: He shared a video that morning with lieutenant governor candidate Diana Reyna, saying the duo were “up in Washington Heights today campaigning with our friends.”

Suozzi’s office did not respond to three requests for comment on the congressman’s use of proxy voting. A spokesperson for Suozzi told Spectrum News last month that he “continues to take every vote and handle issues impacting his constituents while he campaigns for governor of New York.”

Beyond his voting record, Suozzi—a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee—hasn’t been particularly active in committee work this year. The Dispatch reviewed full Ways and Means hearings as well as hearings for the two subcommittees Suozzi sits on, and we couldn’t find a single appearance by the congressman in 2022, despite being able to join over video.

Suozzi’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the congressman’s committee participation when presented with a list of hearings The Dispatch noted he did not speak at this year.

Those hearings included one about America’s mental health crisis, one examining challenges taxpayers face, a hearing on the economic impact of federal infrastructure investment, a meeting on substance use and suicide risk, a hearing featuring the IRS commissioner about the 2022 filing season, a hearing on the Biden administration’s trade policy with testimony from U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, a meeting on racism and economic opportunity, and a hearing last week with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on the department’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

As we wrote in last Tuesday’s newsletter, lawmakers seeking other offices are usually less involved in congressional work during election years. Proxy voting, though, has made it possible for members to skip House work weeks for months on end without much public notice. This wasn’t what proxy voting was created for, and overt examples of members using pandemic rules for political benefit may place additional pressure on congressional leaders to come up with more stringent guardrails for remote work.

Members have used the proxy voting system for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instituted it two years ago. Some of these have been entirely sympathetic: postpartum recovery, periods of bad health, an unanticipated surgery. Other uses have been more brazenly political: Lawmakers from both parties have invoked it at times to attend fundraisers and conferences.

Abuses of the proxy voting rules have gone unchecked by congressional leaders, even as the behavior has ramped up ahead of November’s elections.

A spokesman for Pelosi did not respond to two requests for comment on this story. 

There’s no clear consensus on how to rein in members who are abusing remote procedures.

Members have debated various options to revise the House’s proxy voting system, such as Rep. Veronica Escobar’s proposal for a set number of remote voting days for each member annually, similar to paid time off in other jobs.

But any reforms are likely to come in the next Congress—House GOP leaders, having opposed it from the start, aren’t expected to leave proxy voting intact—absent more public pressure to change the rules sooner.

Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution who has studied proxy voting extensively, pointed out that high-profile abuses of proxy voting not only limit those lawmakers’ influence in Congress, but they also undermine confidence in the institution.

Reynolds said lawmakers should be having a conversation about a longer term, post-pandemic, proxy voting system to accommodate members’ health and family needs. She remembered Sen. Tammy Duckworth going to the Senate floor to vote just a little over a week after having a baby, for example. Duckworth would have had to skip votes altogether if she had wanted more time to recover from the delivery. Another instance: Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s emergency eye surgery that left him unable to travel for an extended period—he used the pandemic proxy voting system to stay involved at that time. 

The more proxy voting is abused to enable political campaigning now, Reynolds said, the more it makes a good faith conversation about health and family situations less possible if Republicans take the House in November.

“It just becomes even harder to imagine how we would get to a place where the House could figure out how to keep a practice that would allow new moms, new dads, people undergoing certain health treatments themselves, all those sorts of things,” she told The Dispatch.

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.