Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced a lawsuit Wednesday to unravel the 2023 spending bill Congress approved late last year, saying too few lawmakers showed up in person to vote on the measure for it to be valid.
The challenge goes to the heart of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s designated voter scheme, a pandemic-era policy that allowed lawmakers to stay home and give their voting power to a colleague who would be present.
It was used — and abused — throughout the pandemic, but the spending bill was particularly egregious. More than half of the chamber voted while absent, using a proxy, in the Dec. 23 vote.
“Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution authorize the House to pass trillion-dollar bills when more than half the members are in their homes, vacationing, or are anywhere physically other than the United States Capitol Building,” said Mr. Paxton, a Republican. “Our Founders would be turning over in their graves if they could see how former Speaker Nancy Pelosi used proxy voting to upend our constitutional system.”
The $1.7 trillion spending bill cleared as the last act under the lame-duck Democratic majority in the House. The GOP took control of the chamber early this year.
Many Republicans had argued the House should have waited on the spending bill, giving the new GOP-controlled House a bigger say in the outcome.
Upending the law would give Republicans that chance — though Mr. Paxton has a tough legal road ahead of him to make his case.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, now the new speaker, had sued over the proxy voting policy in 2020 when he was the GOP’s floor leader.
A series of court rulings rejected his claims, finding that federal judges didn’t have the power to intervene in the internal workings of the House.
The Supreme Court let those rulings stand, declining to give Mr. McCarthy a hearing on his appeal.
Upon taking control of the chamber, Republicans did away with proxy voting.
While it was in effect, it was supposed to be used by lawmakers who faced a COVID issue.
Those flexing the designated voter scheme were to assign their vote to a fellow member. They had to sign a document affirming that they were “unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.”
By last year, however, it had become a tool of convenience for lawmakers who couldn’t be bothered to make it to the chamber.
In the spending vote, only 201 members voted in person. Another 226 votes were cast absentee — a majority of those by Democrats.
The law passed 225-201, but considering only the votes of those present, it would have failed with just 88 in favor and 113 opposed.
Mr. Paxton said the House didn’t have a quorum present and so its action was invalid.
The Constitution says a quorum is “a majority” of the body.
Mrs. Pelosi’s rules said those absent but voting by proxy counted as part of the quorum, but Mr. Paxton said the Constitution envisioned a quorum to only include those physically present. He pointed to previous Supreme Court rulings citing “presence” as a key requirement.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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