While on campaign trail, Bachmann increasingly absent from Congressby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
Washington — U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign took her to North Carolina Thursday, where she held several fundraising events.
A heavy travel schedule is part of life on the campaign trail. But that also means less time for Bachmann in Washington, and her job as a member of the House of Representatives.
Bachmann didn't vote in Congress a single time in September.
According to House records, the congresswoman has missed 58 percent of the roll call votes since July 1, when her presidential campaign went into high gear.
Bachmann did return to Washington on Sept. 8 for President Barack Obama's jobs speech before a joint session of Congress. Weather delayed her arrival in the Washington, D.C., area so she missed the speech. But Bachmann did deliver a rebuttal in the House TV studio shortly afterward.
"Unfortunately, it seems that every time the President of the United States speaks, his policies have cost the American people both jobs and future prosperity," she said.
Bachmann left the capitol again the next day, missing votes. Several were related to re-authorizing intelligence and national security programs, legislation that came from the House Intelligence Committee that Bachmann sits on.
Bachmann's congressional spokeswoman, Becky Rogness, makes no apologies for her boss's attendance record.
"By continuing to lead the fight against the president's job-destroying policies, Congresswoman Bachmann is serving not only her constituents, but countless more Americans," Rogness said.
While Bachmann's recent attendance record is poor, it's not out of line with past presidential candidates in Congress.
When then-candidate Obama was in the Senate, he missed 56 percent of his votes — almost the same percentage as Bachmann — at the same point in his campaign.
Obama's Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, missed just under half of the Senate's roll call votes during the same period.
But two other Republican presidential candidates currently serving in the House have balanced campaigning with their Congressional duties.
For example, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas missed 19 percent of the roll call votes held since July 1. U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, who recently ended his White House bid, missed fewer than 12 percent of the votes.
Were Bachmann to drop out of the presidential race and run again for Congress, her constituents in Minnesota's 6th District likely would not punish her extended absences, University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said.
Pearson said most voters in her district probably don't see a decline in constituent services from Bachmann's office.
"Constituents want their members of Congress to be active for them in the chamber, but the reality is when it comes to a lot of constituent requests, staff are really carrying a lot of the load," Pearson said.
Bachmann's absence from Washington is probably most noticed by Republican leaders in the House, who have clashed with her in the past.
This summer, Bachmann was one of the most vocal Republicans opposed to raising the debt ceiling, even as GOP leaders agreed that it should be raised.
With Bachmann gone, House Speaker John Boehner's job is slightly easier, Pearson said.
"She is influential among a subset of Republican members and certainly a subset of the Republican base," Pearson said. "So she does create problems for the leadership."
Member's of Bachmann's staff say they expect to see her back in Washington and on the floor of the House at some point in October — just as Congress gears up for another round of spending battles.
- All Things Considered, 09/29/2011, 5:15 p.m.