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Stefanik said she couldn't vote in person because of the pandemic. Then she went to Mar-a-Lago

Rep. Elise Stefanik, in a pink suit and blue blouse, seated next to former President Donald Trump, wearing a navy suit with a pink tie and white shirt, at a pink-covered table.
Elise Stefanik
Rep. Elise Stefanik sent a letter to the House Clerk Tuesday saying she couldn't vote in Washington D.C. "due to the ongoing public health emergency," but instead held a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago with former President Donald Trump.

North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) missed a couple of votes in Congress this week. In an official letter, Stefanik said she couldn’t vote in person “due to the ongoing public health emergency.”

But that was on Tuesday, the same day she attended a campaign fundraiser in person with former President Trump in Florida where most guests weren’t wearing masks.

As Trump was getting ready to welcome Stefanik and top-dollar Republican donors at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday, the daily grind of running the government was still underway in Washington, D.C. There were a couple of procedural votes that day, on two military-related bills in the House.

Stefanik wrote what’s known as a proxy letter – authorizing another member of Congress to vote on her behalf due to health concerns. That’s a new practice, in place because of the pandemic.

"The House of Representatives – facing the COVID pandemic like everyone else – needed to come up with a way to allow members to safely participate in the legislative process," said Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

She said proxy voting – or remote voting – is meant to protect lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers during COVID spikes, “but it’s also created opportunities for abuse.”

"Proxy voting was not adopted with the intention of allowing a member [...] to attend a political fundraiser," Reynolds said.

But on the day she was at a fundraiser with Trump, Stefanik did vote by proxy against those two measures.

Democrats and Republicans have used the practice for reasons that appear totally unrelated to the pandemic – and they’ve drawn criticism. But it’s Republicans who have attacked proxy voting the most.

In 2020, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called it a “loophole” that allows Democrats “to keep getting paid, even if they don't show up for work.”

Stefanik herself has blasted the practice on Twitter, and she signed a letter with McCarthy and party leaders calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to end proxy voting.

"Congressional Republicans sued to say that the proxy voting was unconstitutional," Reynolds added. But more Republicans started using proxy votes last year, she said.

Stefanik’s challengers in the North Country congressional race were quick to attack her for using a pandemic-era health policy to attend a fundraiser.

In a statement, Democrat Matt Putorti, who is vying to challenge Stefanik in November, said, “Stefanik isn’t interested in leading. She’s interested in her own power and political career.”

Democrat Matt Castelli, also a challenger for the North Country's seat in Congress, said Stefanik “lied [...] in an official letter to Congress.”

We reached out to Stefanik for a response. North Country Public Radio also asked how Stefanik’s thinking about proxy voting has evolved, among other questions. We didn’t hear back in time for this story.

Public documents indicate Stefanik was back in D.C. to vote in person the next day.