Beyer has voted on behalf of his colleagues more than 2,100 times, more than any other House member.
He told Insider that he supports continuing the controversial pandemic-era procedure, but wants more guidelines.
He also brags to his grandchildren that he “got to vote to impeach Donald Trump six times.”
For nearly two years, proxy voting has been a ubiquitous, if contested, feature of the House of Representatives.
Instituted in May 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the procedure has allowed countless members of Congress to cast votes on behalf of colleagues that attest, in writing, that they are “unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.”
Racking up votes on behalf of one’s colleagues isn’t exactly a competition. But if it was, Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia would be the far-and-away, uncontested winner; he’s voted on behalf of colleagues over 2,130 times over the last two years.
“It’s been an honor,” said Beyer in a recent phone interview with Insider. “I think I could say I voted more than any other member of the House in the last eight years.”
Beyer suspects that his high proxy vote count may simply stem from his geographic proximity to the nation’s capital — he represents Virginia’s 8th congressional district, covering Arlington, Alexandria, and other areas just across the Potomac river from Washington, DC.
“I can get there in 15 minutes,” he noted. “People saw me doing five, six, eight, ten proxies and said, ‘Oh, that’s the proxy guy.'”
And his party’s frequent unusual use of the pandemic-era procedure has offered Beyer a rather talking point — he cast more votes to impeach President Donald Trump than any other House member, taking into account both of his own impeachment votes as well as the four proxy votes he cast for fellow Democrats on January 13, 2021.
“I like being able to brag to my grandchildren, I got to vote to impeach Donald Trump six times,” he said.
Insider analyzed the data from each of the over 700 roll call votes taken by the House between May 20, 2020 until April 7, 2022, analyzing which members used the practice most frequently.
Beyer’s impressive proxy tally far exceeds that of the next most frequent proxy voter — Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who’s cast over 1,620 proxy votes — and even members of Democratic House leadership, who’ve often taken on the task for their members.
In fact, Beyer has cast votes for 38 of his colleagues, more than Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York (33), Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark of Massachusetts (34), and Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar of California (16).
“Maybe they thought I didn’t have as much to do as the leadership,” quipped Beyer.
An emergency measure turns ‘casual’
When Democrats originally proposed the idea of proxy voting, the measure was purely about allowing members of Congress to do their job without potentially jeopardizing their health by traveling to Washington.
“Convening Congress must not turn into a super-spreader event,” said Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, as the House voted to enact the new rules.
“We’re not suggesting permanent changes. No one believes we do our best work in-person and side-by-side more than me,” said McGovern. “Remote legislating will only be utilized so long as this pandemic continues.”
Under proxy voting, a member tasked to vote for another must step up to the microphone and read out a short message informing the House of which way the absent member is casting their vote. Members may vote for up to 10 others at a time, leading to a potentially time-consuming process.
“I occasionally screw it up, but that’s okay,” said Beyer. “You go back and fix it.”
For Beyer, casting votes on behalf of his colleagues, particularly those who “really, especially at the height of the pandemic, were not supposed to get on an airplane” or “stand in a room that had 100 to 200 people at any one time” “has always made sense.
Also offered strong praise — Hearings in a hybrid or remote fashion — another authorized under the proxy voting rules that it a “much more efficient way to run committees.”
“You’re running back and forth, trying to make a brief, five-minute appearance and then race someplace else for another brief, five-minute,” said Beyer, referring to how members previously tried to juggle simultaneous hearings for different committees on which they served.
But as vaccines became widely available last year and media scrutiny of the practice increased, the long-term need for the practice particularly has come into question, as lawmakers use proxy voting for purposes that are decidedly unrelated to COVID-19.
“It’s gotten a little more casual, more recently,” Beyer conceded. “You know, with people wanting to leave early to catch their plane.”
In March, the Rules Committee held another hearing on the future of the practice, exploring “whether these tools have utility beyond the public health emergency.”
Beyer argued that it does, but said that guidelines are needed to guard against flagrant abuse of the system.
“There probably should be guidelines that show that they’re not used to go to CPAC conventions or vacations, or things like that,” he said, referring to Republicans who had colleagues cast their votes while they attended the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Those guidelines, according to Beyer, could include illness and family priorities, noting that the “additional flexibility” afforded by the system benefited the oldest and youngest members of Congress alike.
“We have a lot of plus-seventies in Congress,” he said. “We also have a lot of young people, with families and children, and I think it was really valuable for those folks with kids at home to be able to stay for the parent-teacher conference.”
But he also said that official business in a member’s home district could potentially constitute a legitimate excuse, pointing to when Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin voted by proxy while touring his district with President Joe Biden.
“Seemed pretty legitimate to me,” said Beyer. “I mean, it wasn’t COVID, it wasn’t the original intent, but it worked out well for Ron.”
Beyer even pointed to his own use of the system, when he asked Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland to cast votes for him as he stayed home for two days following a surgical procedure.
“I didn’t have COVID, so it wasn’t the original intent,” he conceded. “But I also couldn’t go to the Hill, and it was nice to be able to have somebody vote for me.”
As time has gone by and successive waves of the virus have passed, Beyer says he’s found himself with less proxies, and thus, more time on his hands.
“A couple of times, I had no proxies,” he said. “I was like, wow, what am I gonna do with all this extra time?”
‘I hope we keep it in some kind of responsible form’
With the potential for a change in power following the 2022 midterms the future of proxy voting, is in doubt; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2020 after the House approved the new rules on a largely party line vote. The suit claimed the practice is unconstitutional and strips voters of their voice in Congress by handing voting power to another lawmaker. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in January 2022, putting an end to McCarthy’s legal battle.
McCarthy also pressured his caucus not to use the procedure and Republicans who signed onto the pledged to “refrain from lending my vote via proxy or place a vote via proxy on behalf of another Member.”
For former Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, one of the few House Republicans who was supportive of proxy votingthat meant turning to Beyer to cast proxy votes on his behalf.
“Francis Rooney didn’t really have anybody else to turn to on the Republican side,” said Beyer. “No Republican would cast a proxy vote for him at that time.”
So Beyer ended up casting “many” votes against major Democratic priorities on behalf of Rooney. “He was a friend,” Beyer remarked.
Over time, Republicans have gradually begun to use proxy voting more — 15 GOP members have used the procedure over 100 times.
“When they started using the proxy vote, I thought, welcome aboard,” said Beyer. “Your objects in the first place never really made a lot of sense. There was never going to be cheating.”
But Republicans have vowed to end proxy voting if they regain control of the House. They often contend that Democrats support proxy voting because they only have a single-digit majority in the chamber, a margin that must be maintained list absences render the party unable to pass its major priorities.
But Beyer posited that a Republican majority with only a slight edge over Democrats may discover the advantages of the system as well.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some kind of bipartisan agreement to keep proxies, but to limit them to things that are bonafide, legitimate reasons,” said Beyer. “I hope we keep it in some kind of responsible form.”
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