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Previous story GOP lawmakers facing backlash after misleading House about skipping votes to attend CPAC Next story

STORY BY MANU RAJU, ANNIE GRAYER AND RYAN NOBLES, CNN

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Published on March 6, 2021 12:12 AM

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US Rep. Paul Gosar
(CNN)As he darted down to Florida last week and skipped crucial House votes, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona neglected to tell GOP Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri the full story behind why he needed her to vote in his place.

In a letter to the House designating Wagner to vote on his behalf, Gosar cited the "ongoing public health emergency" as the reason why he couldn't attend votes as the chamber considered President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan. The reality: He was down in Orlando meeting with activists at the Conservative Political Action Committee's annual conference, even speaking to a right-wing group organized by a white nationalist. Wagner was angry when she learned the news, according to a person with knowledge of the exchange, and told him to find another member to vote on his behalf. But Gosar still continued to mislead the House, enlisting another member to vote for him and noting in his letter to the House clerk: "I continue to be unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency." The private exchange was the latest example of the backlash facing 13 Republicans -- some of former President Donald Trump's closest allies -- after CNN reported they lied that they couldn't make House votes because of the pandemic but were instead meeting with their supporters at CPAC and boosting their own profiles in the process. What's irked some top Republicans even more: The House GOP voiced outrage last year at the move by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to allow members to vote "by proxy" -- so much so that the Republican Conference signed onto a high-profile lawsuit alleging such a voting system violated the Constitution, a suit still being considered in the courts. Now there are a growing number of Republicans using the very same system they've long criticized, undermining their case -- and misusing the system as well. "No member should be filing false statements," Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the Conference, told CNN when asked about her colleagues' recent use of proxy voting.

"When you get into a situation where members are signing letters, no matter if they're Republicans or Democrats, saying that they can't be here in person because of the public health emergency and then going someplace else, I think that raises very serious questions and I think it's an issue that has got to be addressed," Cheney added. In private, the issue has festered as well. At a closed-door conference meeting this week, a debate broke about whether Republicans should change their position on the issue given that Democrats have fully embraced the system and have fewer absences even when the voting schedule changes at a drop of dime. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska told his conference that Republicans should consider a shift in approach, while Rep. Chip Roy of Texas chided his colleagues for using false reasons for skipping the votes, according to attendees. Bacon told CNN that proxy voting is wrong, but he indicated that Democrats continue to have an advantage by their party's embrace of the system -- not only because it makes them more flexible to schedule changes but also because it ensures virtually every Democrat will vote even if they are not all physically present. "I haven't done any proxy voting and I don't think it's wise to do it," Bacon said. "However, I do think our conference should rethink this absolutely no, because we end up getting jerked around and (Pelosi) could change the schedules and it doesn't affect them. It affects us. And I think in the end, we could lose some points if we don't." "It puts us at a disadvantage," Bacon added. "It could be a difference between winning and losing a vote." Bacon, a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said he initially was planning to take his wife to a resort in Tucson last week, but knew he had to cancel when votes were added last Friday. "Trust me I was tempted, but I didn't think it would be right because I knew in the end I would have to answer was it Covid related? No, it's not," he said. Roy has made both a public and a private crusade against his colleagues misusing proxy voting, making a statement on the House floor the same day his colleagues were at CPAC that the only reason to proxy vote would be for Covid related reasons.