WASHINGTON – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended a caucus decision not to allow pregnant Rep. Tammy Duckworth vote by proxy from her home in Illinois in this week’s closed-door leadership votes. The decision has raised eyebrows and drawn criticism from conservative pundits, especially since Democrats are such strong supporters of issues like paid family leave.

Pelosi said the decision wasn’t about whether Duckworth, who is due in December, had a valid reason, but because of caucus rules.

“The rules of the caucus are the same as the rules of the House, no proxy voting, and would require changing the rules of the caucus different from the rules of the House,” Pelosi told reporters Monday. “I don’t know why all this fuss was made about a vote in the caucus.”

Duckworth, who is an Iraq war veteran and double amputee, had sent a letter to fellow Democrats asking to participate via proxy because her doctors had instructed her not to travel to Washington. The request was denied.

Pelosi pointed to the “slippery slope” argument, saying the caucus couldn’t vet every application to vote by proxy.

“We don’t know what’s going on in the lives of many people. I think one of our members may be having an operation this week,” Pelosi said. “You’re going to establish a situation where we’re going to determine who has a note from their doctor that is valid. It’s really a place we shouldn’t go down. But it’s not to be confused with not having family or medical leave.”

At the root of the dispute going public is a tense and bitter battle over who will be the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Duckworth is backing Rep. Frank Pallone while Pelosi is pushing for Rep. Anna Eshoo. Each side has accused the other of playing politics in deciding whether to allow Duckworth to vote by proxy.

Pelosi, who is a mother of five children, said she encouraged Duckworth to remain at home as long as needed.

“I was one of the ones who said to Congresswoman Duckworth, don’t come back here. This is a most glorious experience of your life, the center of the universe will change for you when you have this new precious baby,” Pelosi said. “Knowing about the baby, I appointed Congresswoman Duckworth to the Benghazi committee. Only five appointments we had. We wanted our strongest members there. She informed me of her good news and I said, ‘Just take it as it comes, to the extent you can serve we want you to be there.’”

“We wish her well, she has all of our good wishes and prayers.”