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Pocan has voted regularly from D.C. since the start of 2021, missing three votes due to limited access on inauguration day and flight scheduling issues
But 2020 was a different story. Pocan voted by proxy about 90 times, due to a warning from his doctor over a heart condition
The COVID-19 outbreak set work schedules aflame all over the world -- including in Washington D.C.
And in Congress.
In May 2020, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., allowed members to vote by proxy. That meant they could designate a colleague to record their votes for them, subject to the direct instructions of the person not able to vote from Washington D.C.
Since then, Pelosi has extended the ability to vote by proxy through July 3, 2021, according to a May 21, 2021 report from the left-leaning Brookings Institution, even though Congress is under pressure to return to normal as more staffers and politicians get vaccinated.
While proxy voting was offered to to keep House members safe during the pandemic, some critics have called out out politicians for "missing" votes.
In a May 19, 2021 piece for the MacIver Institute, conservative talk radio host Dan O’Donnell of WISN-AM, called it "laziness by proxy" and slammed various Democrats for, in his view, using proxy voting too frequently. He especially called out U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, who took to Twitter to slam O’Donnell and defend himself.
In a tweeted retort, Pocan said he has been "in D.C. voting regularly."
We typically prefer to check politicians than pundits, so let’s look at Pocan and his defense.
Is it true he’s been "in D.C. voting regularly"?
When we reached out to Pocan’s office, Communications Director Usamah Andrabi told us Pocan has used the proxy system several times since the COVID outbreak -- but only three times so far during 2021, missing three votes out of the 156 votes this year.
"He missed votes on two instances," Andrabi said in an email. "The first was a single vote that occurred during the Inauguration, which he did not attend due to limited seating and COVID restrictions. Second, on April 19, he missed the first two votes due to a flight that got him into D.C. later than when the votes started."
But looking back to 2020, voting records show Pocan voted by proxy many more times.
Records show that Pocan used a proxy from May 22, 2020 through June 24, for two days of voting. He again employed a proxy from July 25 through Aug. 21, 2020, during which he voted by proxy for four days. The final proxy notification in 2020 came on Sept. 11, and didn’t end until the following January. During that time, Pocan voted by proxy for 29 days.
Out of the 292 roll call votes Congress took during the 116th session in 2020, Pocan voted by proxy for nearly 90 of them, voting records show.
For context, according to online records, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, employed the proxy system for 25 days, between June 2020 and May 2021. And U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, used the proxy system more than 70 days between May 2020 and May 2021.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, and U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R- Clyman, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-De Pere, and Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, did not employ the proxy system, according to records. U.S. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, submitted a proxy letter on March 5, 2021, but has not used the proxy voting system.
Pocan’s office acknowledged the votes by proxy in October, November and December, noting that Pocan had a reason for not voting in person.
"Given the Congressman’s prior diagnosed heart disease, Congressman Pocan followed his physician’s advice to avoid contact with people who weren’t practicing safe COVID protocol," Andrabi said in an email.
Since getting vaccinated in January, he said, Pocan has not regularly missed meetings.
But focusing only on the most recent months is a bit disingenuous. The opinion piece that prompted Pocan’s claim that he had been voting in-person regularly clearly was about a broader time period. So, Pocan is polishing his apple by highlighting a narrower window.
In a tweet that responded to criticism from a conservative talk radio host, Pocan claimed he had been in Washington, D.C., "voting regularly," not using a proxy.
In 2021, Pocan has regularly been in D.C. for votes, voting by proxy only on inauguration day when access to the U.S. Capitol was limited, and two votes he missed after a flight got him into town after votes had started.
But looking back to 2020, Pocan utilized the proxy system much more often, using it for 39 votes in October, November and December, and several other times from May through September. An aide said Pocan was following the advice of his doctor, because of a diagnosed heart disease.
Whatever the reason, Pocan picked a narrow period to respond to much broader criticism.
We rate this claim as Half True, which means the statement is partially accurate, but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
Brookings Institution, "Proxy voting turns one: The past, present and future of remote voting in the House," May 21, 2021
Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, Proxy letters, June 1, 2021
Senate.gov, "Roll call votes 116th Congress - 2nd session," June 1, 2021
Email conversations with Usamah Andrabi, Communications director for Mark Pocan, May 26 and June 1, 2021
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