Whenever a member of the Senate runs for the White House, it’s inevitable that they’re going to miss a ton of votes. Campaigning for the presidency requires that you spend time pandering to people in several different states that aren’t your own. When you’re not campaigning, you’re begging rich people to give you money so you can afford to do more campaigning. It’s impossible to maintain that schedule and also regularly show up to vote on the Senate floor. As the absences pile up, reporters take notice and start writing stories about Senator So-and-So’s horrible attendance record, which quickly get incorporated into attacks from their opponents, who accuse them of not doing their job.
The persistence of this phenomenon is a bit strange, given that voters don’t seem to care all that much. Sen. Barack Obama barely showed up for work when he ran for the White House in 2007 and he wasn’t punished for it, though he had the good fortune of running against two other senators – Hillary Clinton and John McCain – who were also forced to skip out on their day jobs. It’s actually a pretty easy issue to defuse: just churn out some pabulum about how running for president is difficult and you’re thinking about the future of the country and blah blah blah.
Marco Rubio, however, is going a slightly different route. The Florida senator has already said he’s not running for reelection in 2016, and the rigors of the presidential campaign are forcing him to miss lots and lots of votes (in lieu of voting, he issues statements about how he would have voted, like when he firmly declared his opposition to legislation banning torture). His frequent absences are gaining more and more attention, so yesterday he tried explaining how he’s balancing the responsibilities of an outgoing senator with those of an aspiring commander-in-chief:
In a Tuesday appearance on NBC's "Today Show," Rubio rejected the notion that he has been selling his Florida constituents short by attending campaign events and fundraisers instead.
"No, in fact the majority of the job of being a senator is not walking on to the Senate floor and lifting your finger on a noncontroversial issue and seeing which way you're going to vote," he said. "The majority of the work of a senator is the constituent service to committee work, that continues forward unabated."
He added: "My ambitions aren't for me; my ambitions are for the country and Florida. And that's why I'm running for president."
So the argument he’s going with is that he’s still doing the important stuff that a senator does, just not the voting. It’s a strange case for Rubio to make, given that he’s not doing the committee work that he says is so crucial. “He has missed private hearings during a critical stage in the Iran talks, a public forum on China and a private briefing on the U.S. strategy on the Islamic State,” Politico reported in July. Again, absenteeism isn’t really an issue on its own, but it starts becoming an issue when you claim that you’re still doing the work that you’re not actually doing.
And really, this “I’m still trying to be an effective senator” stuff is far less satisfying an answer than Rubio’s earlier explanations for why he was missing so many votes. The issue came up at the Republican primary debate on CNN in September, and Rubio’s rationale for missing votes was essentially “this job sucks and I’ve already put in my notice, so the hell with it.”
RUBIO: And you're right, I have missed some votes, and I'll tell you why, Mr. Trump. Because in my years in the Senate, I've figured out very quickly that the political establishment in Washington, D.C. in both political parties is completely out of touch with the lives of our people.
You have millions of people in this country living paycheck to paycheck, and nothing is being done about it. We are about to leave our children with $18 trillion in - in - in debt, and they're about to raise the debt limit again.
We have a world that grows increasingly dangerous, and we are eviscerating our military spending and signing deals with Iran. And these - if this thing continues, we are going to be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.
That's why I'm missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate, I'm not running for re-election, and I'm running for president because I know this: unless we have the right president, we cannot make America fulfill its potential, but with the right person in office, the 21st century can be the greatest era that our nation has ever known.
That answer at least had the benefit of being honest. But Rubio seems intent on manufacturing problems for himself by pretending he’s still doing a fine job as senator when he’s clearly checked out and focused on becoming president.