Congressman Jason Smith
Abandoning the Founders’ Framework
“Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections…and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; …and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.” – Article 1, Section 5, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution
These are some of the words our Founding Fathers agonized over during the humid summer of 1787 in the old Pennsylvania State House. Their final product, the U.S. Constitution, is both the oldest and shortest written constitution on the face of the earth. While it is crystal clear from the text of the Constitution that Congress is required to meet in person, the current Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has used this coronavirus pandemic to circumvent the Constitution and 231 years of precedent.
While the American people have been focused on getting back to work and providing for their families, Speaker Pelosi was focused on a power grab. She moved unilaterally to make a change that violates the Constitution and historic precedents by no longer requiring Members of Congress to be present in the U.S. Capitol Building to vote. Despite unified opposition from Republicans and red flags raised by scholars of our Constitution, the Speaker and her liberal lieutenants forced their “proxy voting” rule change on to the U.S. House of Representatives. Now, under this scheme, Members of Congress can simply give their vote to another Member when they can’t be bothered to travel to Washington. Under Pelosi’s plan, as few as 20 Representatives can cast votes for 220 congressional districts representing more than 165 million Americans. This is pure insanity. Not only does this directly violate the U.S. Constitution, but it betrays our American values. Of all the challenges our country has met head on over our 230 years, Congress had never previously abandoned the Constitution.
Throughout our nation’s history, the United States Congress has always required its members to attend in person, even during times of war like during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. After the British burned the Capitol in 1814, the 13th Congress convened less than a week later at the Blodgett’s Hotel. To ensure that Congress could continue to meet in person, the “Old Brick Capitol” was built, and Congress would continue to meet there until the U.S. Capitol reopened in December of 1819. During the Civil War, Congress continued to work out of the U.S. Capitol Building, with only a sliver of the Potomac River separating it from the Confederacy. Most importantly of all was that construction continued on the Capitol Dome. The completion of the 288-foot cast-iron dome—which still remains atop the U.S. Capitol today—became a symbol of the Union. The brilliant white paint was visible even in the darkest days of the war.
When our nation was visited by the horrors of September 11, 2001, Congress convened in person in the U.S. Capitol building—the fourth target of the terrorists—the following morning. Nine days later, President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives Chamber.
This isn’t even the only time that Congress has faced a threat caused by a disease. During the Yellow Fever of 1793, there were no proxy voting options instituted for Congress. In fact, during that time, George Washington traveled to the banks of the Potomac River to lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol Building. During the Spanish Flu outbreak 1918, Congress continued to meet in the U.S. Capitol Building. The public galleries were closed like they are today, and the Members used that extra level of protection to work together and address the issues facing the country. However, unlike those examples from our past, today’s leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are shying away from the moment.
Speaker Pelosi has unilaterally decided that she does not need the rest of Congress to achieve her liberal goals. Instead of getting Americans back to work and the economy going again, Speaker Pelosi has used these past weeks to further embolden her closest allies in the United States Congress by siphoning off other Members’ votes to wield for her benefit. In fact, this week, 74 Democrats let other liberal lawmakers cast their votes for them while they stayed at home. This is not the representative democracy our Founders envisioned or what our Constitution allows. At this rate, there is nothing to stop Speaker Pelosi from creating a “rule” that stipulates the minority party’s votes only count for half of the majority party’s votes.
To stop this insanity, this week, I joined a lawsuit against Speaker Pelosi’s unconstitutional power grab. Like our Founding Fathers, I don’t believe that only 20 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives—the People’s House—can cast votes representing more than 165 million Americans. That’s patently unconstitutional.
Speaker Pelosi must be held accountable, or the integrity of our Republic will be lost forever.