‘Absences grab voters’ attention’: Rep. Demings criticizes Sen. Rubio’s missed votes in Congress
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Aug. 15, 2022. Credit: Photos courtesy of Senator Rubio’s office.
In a competitive U.S. Senate race for a Florida seat, Rep. Val Demings continues to launch attacks on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s missed roll call votes in Congress, an issue that can potentially sway voters as they assess Rubio’s job in the U.S. Capitol.
“When police officers don’t show up to work, they get fired,” Demings, a Democrat, said in an ad posted on YouTube. “That’s how it should be for senators too. As chief, I showed up every day.”
The former Orlando police chief says Rubio, a Republican, “is one of the worst at showing up. And when he does, he hurts Florida,” Demings said in a new campaign ad last week.
From attending school to coming into work — or not — absenteeism is part of the job world, though absences can pile up, even in Congress.
Based on data from GovTrack.us and a review of attendance records for both candidates, the Florida Phoenix found that Demings has had less than 1 percent (0.8 percent) missed votes during her tenure in the U.S. House since 2017. In contrast, Rubio’s record in the U.S. Senate, since 2011, is at 9.1 percent of missed votes.
“This is much worse than the median of 2.4 percent among the lifetime records of senators currently serving,” according to GovTrack.us., a nonpartisan website featuring data on Congress and information about the federal government.
Susan MacManus, professor emerita of politics at the University of South Florida, said in a phone conversation Monday with the Florida Phoenix that legislators who miss votes aren’t necessarily “always playing hooky” but “the first inclination any voter has is they’re not doing their job.”
Rubio is a former Florida House Speaker seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate. Demings is trying to kick out Rubio and become the second Florida female to be elected to the U.S. Senate. (Demings has a Democratic primary on Aug. 23, 2022; Rubio is the incumbent and unopposed in the GOP primary.)
Rubio campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Gregory did not provide a response to the Phoenix about Rubio’s attendance record but touted his record on successfully passing legislation. “Marco has had numerous bills signed into law by both Republican and Democrat presidents,” she said in an email.
He has also managed to gain endorsements from at least 55 sheriffs in Florida and some police groups, though Demings has had a long law enforcement career.
Dems bash Rubio over attendance record
Meanwhile, the Florida Democratic Party has bashed Rubio’s attendance in various press releases. In late July, for example, the party called Rubio an “absentee Senator” who has “one of the worst attendance records in the Senate.”
Grant Fox, spokesperson for the Florida Democratic Party, said in a written statement last week:
“Not only is Marco Rubio failing to show up for his job in the Senate, he’s failing to show up on the campaign trail. After getting out-raised every quarter for over a year, Rubio’s campaign is still struggling. It’s clear that Floridians are fed up with Marco Rubio’s record of caving to special interests and refusing to do his job.”
Also, in mid-July, Demings released another ad blasting Rubio on his attendance record in the Senate.
“It certainly captures people’s attention. Everyone wants to know why (Rubio missed those votes). And obviously a key part of any ad is to grab somebody’s attention. And absences grab voters’ attention,” USF’s MacManus said.
At least one answer related to missed votes in Congress had to do with Rubio’s attempt to capture the GOP nomination for president in 2016, which ultimately fizzled.
The GovTrack.us data show that at that time period, Rubio had 129 missed votes compared to eligible votes of 242. That totaled 53.3 percent of missed votes. Those missed votes were between April to June 2015 to January to March 2016 — the highest number of missed votes during Rubio’s entire tenure.
Also, according to ProPublica, Rubio cited “travel difficulties” for missed votes – two absences on November 1, 2021 and another absence on October 18, 2021.
As to other reasons for missing votes, GovTrack.us stated on its website: “We don’t track why legislators miss votes, but it’s often due to medical absences and major life events.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Demings’ 0.8 percent record on missed votes, “is better than the median 2.1 percent among the lifetime records of representatives currently serving.”
Comparing Demings to Rubio starting at 2017
Given that Rubio’s tenure in Congress is longer than Demings’ tenure — she first came to Congress in 2017 — the Phoenix reviewed a missed-vote analysis starting with both candidates at 2017.
Both missed some votes, but Rubio had far more missed votes compared to Demings.
For instance, Rubio missed 12 votes out of 53 from July to September of 2017, which is almost 23 percent. In addition, he missed 12 out of 56 votes from October to December of 2018, which is about 21 percent. In 2020, Rubio missed nine out of 90 votes from October to December, which is 10 percent.
In 2018, Demings missed five out of 129 votes from January to March, which is nearly 4 percent. And she missed five out of 199 votes from July to September of 2017, totaling 2.5 percent. Those are the highest numbers in the whole analysis. In many cases, there were no missed votes at all for Demings, according to the GovTrack.us data.
Demings’ campaign has yet to respond to a request for comment from the Phoenix about her attendance record.
MacManus, of USF, said voters pay attention to attendance records but there could be various reasons as to why a legislator didn’t show up during various committees.
“Sometimes the job is more complicated than what people realize when it comes to some of these attendance records,” MacManus said. “It never looks good that you are not showing up.”
Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.
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