Feb 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

CPAC Republicans choose conservatism over constituents

Rep. Matt Gaetz is seen addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Rep. Matt Gaetz. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

CPAC proved such a draw, conservative Republicans chose the conference over their constituents.

Why it matters: More than a dozen House Republicans voted by proxy on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in Washington so they could speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. And Sen. Ted Cruz chose to be there instead of his hometown of Houston when President Biden visited to survey storm damage.

  • The proxy votes were particularly strident, given the GOP sued to stop the practice when Democrats created it to allow safe voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • And Cruz's visit to Florida — which, he joked, wasn't as nice as his much-maligned trip to Cancún — cost him the same facetime that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) got when he greeted and accompanied the president in Texas.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday: "There was neither an invitation nor a request for (Cruz) to attend. There are a number of members of both parties attending and joining the president on the trip."
  • Cruz's office did not offer immediate comment but added later: "Sen. Cruz was was not invited but remains in close contact with state and local officials and is focused on helping ensure there is a full federal response to these storms."

The big picture: CPAC attracted a bevy of Republicans across four days, some simply looking for the party limelight and others positioning themselves for the 2024 presidential campaign.

  • All had to tread the fine line between advancing their own interests and paying homage to former President Trump, who delivered Sunday's closing address.
  • The lure of thousands of attendees — and near gavel-to-gavel coverage on Fox News — prompted some to put their personal politics ahead of constituent responsibilities.

At least 13 Republicans in Congress who were scheduled to speak at CPAC requested colleagues cast their votes by proxy — a voting procedure allowing House members to vote remotely during the pandemic.

  • Reps. Ted Budd and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube of Florida, who were all scheduled to speak at the conference Friday, requested colleagues to vote on their behalf.
  • "I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency, and I hereby grant the authority to cast my vote by proxy to the Honorable Scott Franklin (FL-15), who has agreed to serve as my proxy," Gaetz wrote in his explanatory letter.
  • Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Mark Green of Tennessee, Darrell Issa and Devin Nunes of California, Ronny Jackson of Texas, Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Lauren Boebert of Colorado all voted by proxy after being listed as scheduled speakers, CNN reported.
  • A spokesperson for Budd told Yahoo News the congressman still opposes the procedure but was forced to use it because "Democrats rearranged the House schedule with extremely late notice." Budd also donated his day's salary to the North Carolina Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, the spokesperson said.

Background: Republicans have been the leading critics of proxy voting, despite their embrace of it over the last few days.

  • Last May, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), 20 other House Republicans and four constituents filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of proxy voting. It was dismissed, but McCarthy filed an appeal.
  • The same day, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) urged his conference to forgo proxy voting if members couldn't appear for an in-person vote.
  • “They are encouraged to submit their vote positions for the Congressional Record rather than utilizing the Democrats’ proxy voting scheme,” he wrote.
  • More than a dozen Republicans did not vote on May 27, including Rep. Don Young, effectively disenfranchising the entire state of Alaska. Overall, more than 9 million constituents were not represented on a vote to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

Republicans aren't alone in some questionable uses of the procedure.

  • Democratic Reps. Charlie Crist and Darren Soto of Florida attended a rocket launch in their home state after requesting to vote by proxy last Congress.
  • While the launch was canceled due to inclement weather, McCarthy blasted the two by posting a copy of their proxy letter next to the photos of Crist and Soto at the event.

Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect John Cornyn accompanying the president only in Texas, Jen Psaki’s comment about Ted Cruz neither asking nor being invited on President Biden's trip to Texas, and the Cruz office's explanation he remains in contact with federal officials.

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