On Tuesday's Daily Show, host Jon Stewart had some pretty tough words for newly reelected House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi opposed allowing Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL), whose pregnancy is too far along for her to travel to DC to vote in House leadership elections, to cast a proxy vote instead. Pelosi argued that letting Duckworth vote by proxy would set a bad precedent and allow other members to skip out on votes.
Stewart mocked her inflexibility as ridiculous, compared it to the idea that female members of Congress shouldn't get their own bathrooms, and recounted media reports that Duckworth's absence benefited Pelosi's preferred candidate for a certain post. He concluded: "That's how the precedent was set that a woman leader could be every bit as politically craven as her male counterparts. Let me say this: You go, girl. Seriously — you should go."
But Stewart's recounting of the incident leaves out some of what took place. A motion to allow Duckworth to vote by proxy was actually proposed at a meeting of House Democrats last week. This is what ensued, according to HuffPost Hill:
What came next was a parade of Democrats who thought they could follow in the wake of the Iraq war vet and double amputee and get out of the meeting themselves. It began with Gwen Moore, who said she had a funeral to go to, and cascaded downward from there. Jerry Nadler suggested a medical exception, but with as old and rickety as the caucus is, where does that end? Jim Clyburn spoke against the exception and Nancy Pelosi stepped in to say that granting one would create just the slippery slope they were already seeing.
The HuffPost Hill authors also point out that the exemption would have been "the first exception granted in decades, if ever." It's also probably worth noting that letting members vote by proxy could weaken the leadership's hand in these elections. It's more difficult for any leader to twist arms and nail down the votes she needs if members are spread out across the country, rather than in a building where party leaders can corner them one-on-one and get commitments out of them. None of that makes what happened to Duckworth fair or right — but it's a bit more complicated than Stewart's presentation.
(Hat tip: Jaime Fuller of the Washington Post)