GOP slams new Dem senator who skipped votes to attend Christmas party

Joe Manchin, the newly elected Democratic senator from West Virginia, is taking heat from Republicans for skipping several crucial votes on Saturday to spend time with his family.

Manchin missed votes to advance the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants under a certain age who meet certain requirements, and repeal the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

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Manchin missed both a vote to end a GOP filibuster of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and a vote on final passage of the measure.

“For a senator who has only been on the job a few weeks, Manchin’s absence today, and the apparent lack of seriousness with which he takes the job he was elected to do, speaks volumes,” said Brian Walsh, communications director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Spokeswoman Sara Payne Scarbro told The Charleston Gazette’s blog that Manchin and his wife had “planned a holiday gathering over a year ago with all their children and grandchildren” because they could not be together on Christmas Day.

“While he regrets missing the votes, it was a family obligation that he could not break,” said Payne Scarbro.

Manchin, however, had already made clear that he would oppose the DREAM Act as well as repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” which bans gays from serving openly in the military.

Manchin made a name for himself on the campaign trail as an independent Democrat who opposes core elements of President Obama’s agenda. He aired a famous television ad during the campaign that featured him shooting a copy of comprehensive energy reform and climate change legislation with a high-powered rifle.

Senate Republicans have set their sights on Manchin, who will have to face reelection in 2012 because he is filling the remainder of the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) term. Obama's approval rating in West Virginia has sunk to around 30 percent.

“I’m sure that most senators, as well as the hundreds of staffers who had to come to work today, would have rather been at a Christmas party like Joe Manchin,” Walsh said. “But perhaps in Joe Manchin’s world today was a win-win — not only was he able to skip work and party but he was also able to avoid voting on two very sensitive political issues.”

Senate GOP aides noted that Manchin could have booked a seat on a United flight leaving Dulles airport at 5:40 p.m. that would have landed in Charleston at 7:16 p.m., possibly in time to make an evening party.