Of the candidates running for president, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Sanders have missed about 200 Senate votes each this year. That amounts to more than half — 58 percent — of votes for Booker, followed closely by Harris and Sanders, who have missed about 56 percent. Elizabeth Warren has missed 44 percent of Senate votes, while Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet have missed the least amount of votes at about 30 percent each.
But in the era of President Donald Trump, skipping out on one’s day job for a little bit of executive time doesn’t seem to matter. Democratic primary voters are hyperfocused on finding someone who can take back the White House. And even senators not running for president acknowledge that their colleagues aren’t missing much in today’s Senate.
“As much as I think it’s pretty standard practice for senators running for president to be out of the building, there’s also nothing happening here,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “There are a lot of days where I wonder whether I should take another job.”
Indeed, Senate Democrats are in the minority and most of the votes these days are on judicial nominees that the 2020 candidates almost universally oppose and can’t defeat anyway.
“We don’t legislate,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. “We’re dealing strictly with nominations, simple majority requirements. Their presence doesn’t make a difference.”
Highlighting that is the fact that none of the six Senate Democrats running in 2020 have been a make-or-break vote on any major legislation or nominations.
Take last month’s resolution to rescind the Trump administration’s guidance that loosened requirements for state Obamacare waivers. It failed 43-52, even with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine crossing over and voting with the Democrats. Booker, Sanders, Warren, Harris and Bennet voting “yes” wouldn’t have changed the outcome — but the final vote tally would have been 48-52 instead.
A Democratic aide said Senate leadership stays in touch with senators about when they need to be in the chamber for a key vote .
Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said the Vermont senator will always attend a vote if it hinges on his presence, though not being around for some Senate duties comes with running for president.
“Bernie has made a commitment over this next year to give it his best shot to run for president and win,” Shakir said in a statement. ”He’s all in. That sometimes comes at the expense of missing a few Senate votes.”
Ashley Woolheater, a spokesperson for Warren, said in a statement that the Massachusetts senator “has introduced three dozen bills in the Senate this year, including legislation to cancel student debt for 42 million student borrowers, recently saw her bipartisan bill to honor service members missing in action become law, and conducted oversight investigations.”
Warren also indicates on her Senate website how she would have voted had she been in the Senate that day.
Bennet acknowledged the challenge of being both a U.S. senator and presidential candidate, saying it’s “a hard balance.”
“I’ve tried to make sure that I’m here when I can to vote,” he said. He added: “I haven’t done the analysis” on the voting records of other 2020 candidates.
Booker, Harris and Klobuchar didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Even though skipping votes while running for president is par for the course, sometimes it can hurt a candidate. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) came under fire from his opponents during his 2016 presidential bid for becoming known as an absentee senator.
Rubio tweeted this week asking whether “the absence of incessant reporting about how many votes the Democratic senators running for president are missing just an unintentional oversight or evidence of a double standard?”
In an interview, Rubio said he wasn’t knocking the 2020 candidates, simply asking why the media hadn’t written similar stories of the Democratic contenders.
“You can’t run a serious campaign for president and be here at the same time ,” Rubio said. “I’m not criticizing them, they’re running for president and when you run for president you’re … not gonna be around. My observation is: Where is these litany of stories?”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.