It was a stormy July evening in 1776. The future of the United States depended upon a heroic 18-hour, 80-mile overnight horseback ride.
The Continental Congress was at an impasse. The vote for independence was deadlocked with two delegates from Delaware at odds. The passing of the “unanimous Declaration” relied on a favorable vote by the third delegate from Delaware, Caesar Rodney, who rode through the night, arriving at Independence Hall just in time to cast the deciding vote.
Caesar Rodney had every reason not to take the long journey to Philadelphia. He had returned home to lead the Delaware militia against a Loyalist revolt. He was not in great health and signing this Declaration of Independence against the most powerful empire on earth was essentially signing his own death warrant. But Rodney made the journey because he believed in the cause and his duty to represent the people of Delaware.
Our history is replete with such acts of courage giving us a heritage and lending identity to the very essence of what it means to be an American. Unfortunately, such acts seem to be in short supply in the current halls of Congress where convenience, political expediency, and self-preservation too often rule the day.
This is certainly true today as Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls the House back to Washington for only the third time since March 14. While all the buzz is about the liberal policy wish list packed like a $3 trillion pint of ice cream – shamelessly named the “Heroes Act” – do not be deceived by those 31 flavors. They are not why Congress is back in town.
Speaker Pelosi’s true purpose is a sleight of hand power grab called proxy voting. Under this proposal, one member could cast votes on behalf of up to 10 others, disregarding the Constitutional requirement for a quorum. This means that she could pass her next $3 trillion giveaway (or worse) with just 20 Representatives present in Washington out of the 435 total.
So the pandemic makes it is necessary for Congress to return to Washington to vote to make future returns to Washington to vote unnecessary? The irony would not escape Caesar Rodney and his tyranny-fighting brothers in Philadelphia would be appalled.
Across the nation, Americans are making the sacrifices that officials have requested. Health care providers serve on the front lines battling COVID-19. Truck drivers and grocery store workers are showing up to do their jobs. Our country couldn’t operate without them. So why isn’t the House in Washington operating as the founding fathers intended?
To be clear, this proxy voting scheme would mark a historic change away from the way the House was designed to conduct the people’s business. Representatives from around the country are supposed to assemble in the Capitol to study ideas, debate and amend legislation, and vote. Much of this responsibility has already been stripped away over the past two months. A handful of congressional leaders and unelected executive branch officials have been negotiating mammoth take-it-or-leave-it bills. Now the Speaker is coming for our vote.
Each elected Representative has a constitutional obligation to represent our constituents and honor the public trust we have been given. In a republic, we should not run away from this responsibility, especially in adversity. Our government is in place in order to protect our liberty – not make life easier for politicians.
We’ve all had to make accommodations, and Congress has had to do things differently as well. However, any change to voting, the most fundamental operation of the House and an extension of your voice, should only be done in a serious, thoughtful and bipartisan way. If it truly is intended for only the most urgent circumstances, then it should be done with overwhelming agreement in the House.
This will go down as one of the most significant power grabs in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. Simply put, it’s a failure of leadership disguised as a necessary answer to adversity.
Washington is broken. The people’s voice is being silenced as power is coalesced around a handful of elite career politicians. Some in Congress are content to abdicate their constitutional responsibility for convenience. I, for one, will continue to do my best to keep meeting with people across our district, seek their feedback on what’s working and not working for them, and go to Washington to represent their interests.
Our nation has been through challenges before. We can make it through this one, and leave it a safer, stronger, and better place for our children (without trampling on the Constitution).
In 1934, Congress placed a statue of Rodney in the U.S. Capitol to honor his commitment to liberty. When Members pass by it this week before we cast our votes, may we be reminded of his example. He so cherished liberty that he rode a horse through the night in a storm to pledge his life, fortune, and sacred honor to defend it. The least we can do is get on an airplane.