Democrats promote absentee ballots, early voting and removing barriers and obstacles from the polls -- except in House leadership races apparently.
House Democrats rejected their pregnant colleague’s plea to submit proxy votes in the House Democratic Caucus’s leadership and committee elections next week. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a disabled war veteran who is due to have her first child in December, is missing the elections in person next week because her physician advised her not to travel.
While proxy voting is explicitly against caucus rules, Duckworth, who had both of her legs amputated when the helicopter she was flying was shot down in Iraq, wrote a letter from Illinois to request a waiver due to her extraordinary circumstances. Democrats are scheduled to vote on their leadership team via secret ballot next Tuesday and are also expected to decide senior committee assignments next week.
The drama played out at a closed-door meeting Thursday, when Duckworth’s request was debated before the caucus.
Democrats like Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the co-chair of the Democrat Steering and Policy Committee, cautioned colleagues against setting new precedent for the secret ballot elections.
But Rep. Jan Schakowsky, vice-chair of the steering and policy committee and one of Duckworth’s colleagues from Illinois, made a motion to permit a concession to Duckworth, whose letter was read to the caucus.
"I write to request your assistance regarding upcoming votes four our Caucus," her letter stated, according to the National Journal, which first broke the story. "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,” she continued.
According to a Democratic aide in the room during the debate, a pivotal moment came when Rep. Gwen Moore spoke out to ask whether she could proxy vote as well because she plans to attend a funeral in Wisconsin next Tuesday.
Moore’s request soured the mood of the room against Duckworth’s motion, the aide said, “with Members realizing the slippery slope argument that others had made.” Schakowsky then pulled her motion for Duckworth.
A Democratic source admitted Duckworth’s situation was “a very meritorious case,” but in the end “the slippery slope argument prevailed” because “there’s no practical way to do secret balloting remotely.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was believed to have opposed the request, purportedly in part over a contentious race for the top Democratic position on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee -- an assertion Pelosi's spokesman Drew Hammill says is "false." Nevertheless, Pelosi clearly has a large stake in the behind-the-scenes party battle and did not speak out in Duckworth's favor at the meeting.
Pelosi has repeatedly urged her colleagues to support Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, while Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 ranked Democrat, is putting his weight behind Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey. Duckworth also supports Pallone, raising questions about whether Pelosi is in effect blocking a vote against her fellow Californian.
A senior Democratic leadership aide emphasized that the caucus has not permitted proxy voting for as long as they have records, dating back more than four decades.
"It’s disgusting that Schakowsky and pro-Pallone folks are attempting to politicize an internal Caucus decision," the aide, who was present during the meeting, wrote in an email alleging that senior aides to Hoyer and Schakowsky "were seen repeatedly talking to each other in the Caucus orchestrating this motion during the Caucus meeting yesterday."
"Neither Schakowsky nor her staff brought this to the leadership’s attention in advance of the Caucus meeting," the aide wrote. "This was done intentionally to create a stir."
Multiple sources, however, disputed the aide's version of the story and said the leadership - namely Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra - was consulted the day before about the request.
“Notice was given at the member and staff level to Leader Pelosi’s office and the Caucus well before hand, and it was clear that they were well-prepared and had anti-proxy members ready to speak against the request," said one senior Democratic aide in the room who asked not to be identified.
Duckworth’s office provided a statement from the congresswoman where she seems to have come to terms with the decision.
“I submitted a request to the Caucus to allow for a proxy vote due to my pregnancy,” Duckworth wrote in a statement to ABC News. “The Caucus chose not to allow me to vote via proxy. I respect the process and very much appreciated my colleagues who made sure my request was considered.”
*This story has been updated to reflect several sources disputing a coordinated effort to surprise leadership with the Schakowsky/ Duckworth motion.