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Washington — Woody Allen famously said, “Showing up is half the battle,” and it seems that many lawmakers, including those representing Connecticut, have taken that advice to heart.
The U.S. House held 641 roll call votes last year, and members of the Connecticut delegation missed few of them. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-5th District, was absent the most, missing 27 votes.
“The Congresswoman is deeply committed to all of her responsibilities in representing Connecticut’s Third District,” said DeLauro press secretary Sara Lonardo. “The few occasions last year she missed votes were due to her service on a congressional delegation representing the United States at the installation of Pope Francis, the flu, or other unavoidable conflicts. On each of those occasions she entered a statement into the Congressional Record indicating how she would have voted.”
Analysts say the congressional obsession with attendance has less to do with providing good service for their constituents and more to do with not presenting rivals with an opportunity for attack.
John Hudak, a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, noted that it’s been easier to have a good voting record in this Congress “because there are few surprise votes anymore.”
There been fewer votes in the 113th Congress; last year, the House cast one-third fewer votes than in 2011, the first year of the previous Congress. And the House GOP leadership, and its Democratic counterpart in the Senate, are good at giving lawmakers advanced notice of voting schedules, Hudak said.
But Hudak said the value of a good voting record is overblown.
“A vote only truly matters if it is something specific to the state or district or important for the approval or defeat of a piece of legislation,” he said.
In the case of the Connecticut delegation, none of the lawmakers’ absences would have changed the outcome of a vote.
Yet absences may carry a political cost, Hudak said.
“When people have low voting records that can’t be attributed to health problems, it becomes a campaign issue,” he said.
When Chris Murphy ran against Republican Linda McMahon for his Senate seat in 2012, McMahon’s campaign berated Murphy for his absences from House committee hearings, since he represented the 5th District in the House before winning the Senate seat. Absences from hearings are common in Congress, even as missing votes are not.
Murphy responded to the attack by referring to his House voting record, which showed few missed votes.
While most members like Murphy pride themselves on good attendance, there are members who miss a lot of votes, especially if they are campaigning for higher office.
”When former senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were running for president, they missed votes right and left,” Hudak said. “But (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid let them know when they were needed for a close vote.”
In fact, some very ill lawmakers are called from their sick beds to make a vote, including the late Massachusetts senator, Ted Kennedy, who, while undergoing cancer treatments, returned to Washington to help stifle a Republican filibuster on the Medicare bill.
“I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to express my voice and my vote,” Kennedy said at the time. He later died of a brain tumor.
According to an analysis by the Voter Information Services, former Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., were at the top of the list of lawmakers with the most absences. Markey missed 203 House votes while he successfully ran for Senate last year, and Rush, who missed 228 House votes, had been given a leave of absence to tend to his ill wife.
At the other end of the spectrum were legislators with perfect attendance records. There were 17 of them in the House, including Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who had a bad fall on the Capitol steps running to make a vote. A dozen senators also had perfect scores, including Sens. Sue Collins, R-Maine, and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, missed only six votes last year. Press secretary Jeb Fain said some of those missed votes were because she was at the White House for a ceremony honoring the slain educators of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Other votes were missed because Vice President Joe Biden invited her to the White House to try to sell her on the administration’s plan to attack Syria — a plan that won little congressional support and was dropped in favor of a diplomatic solution.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, missed three votes because of Biden’s lobbying campaign, too, said the lawmaker’s press secretary Edmund Skowronek.
He said other missed votes were due to conflicts in Larson’s schedule.
“While certain missed votes were due to various meetings in Washington going over their allotted time, others were missed due to transportation issues or delays as well as district business conflicting with the floor schedule,” Skowronek said.
Liz Donovan, communications director for Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who also missed 10 votes last year, said “Congressman Courtney’s 98.6 percent voting record demonstrates his deep commitment to his responsibilities in the House.”
“He strives to attend every vote, although on rare occasion other duties as a representative conflict with that schedule,” Donovan said.
Donovan’s analysis of Courtney’s absences show that many were the result of missed flights because of district business, including a speech at the Change of Command ceremony for Adm. Richard Breckenridge at the Submarine Museum in Groton and a live television interview in Connecticut to discuss his efforts to stop student loan interest rates from doubling,
“Of the small amount of votes he missed in 2013, none would have affected the outcome, and the majority were procedural or on noncontroversial bills,” Donovan said.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-5th District, missed 11 votes.
“The Congressman is proud that his voting record is over 98 percent, though he has, on rare occasion, missed votes while fulfilling his other duties as representative — meeting with constituents, meeting with Intelligence officials in the Middle East, attending memorial services in Connecticut — or due to travel issues,” said Elizabeth Kerr, Himes’ communications director. “Of the few times he missed votes, never would his vote have changed the outcome.”