A case of the Mondays on Capitol Hill

Greg Nash

More lawmakers miss the first vote series of the week than any other votes, according to an analysis of congressional voting records by The Hill.

The members argue these “bed-check votes” — usually held on noncontroversial matters, such as naming post offices or honoring various organizations — are a waste of their time that could be spent working on other issues.

“If it’s a choice of doing something in a district, like a health forum, I’ll stay for that and forgo naming two post offices,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who has missed several of the first votes of the week.

Often held at 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. on a Monday or Tuesday, the series of three votes start off the congressional workweek in Washington.

Between 30 and 40 lawmakers typically missing the votes — though the numbers can range higher and lower. 

At least 43 lawmakers missed a series of three votes on Monday, March 18, while about 26 members missed a similar series on Tuesday, July 16.

The first votes of the week are important, a GOP leadership aide says, because they gives leaders time to organize members for bigger votes later in the week. They also give lawmakers, especially those coming from the West Coast, time to get to Washington.

The whip time is probably the most important reason for the early votes. 

Typically, controversial legislation — such as last Thursday’s close vote on a food stamp bill and Friday’s vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government — are held at the end of the week to give leadership on both sides time to find out where their members stand on the issues.

During those first votes of the week, leadership and members of each party’s whip team are often seen working the floor, talking to members. 

The time provides leadership an opportunity to corral dissenters, who excel at hiding in the halls of the Capitol in order to avoid the arm-twisting. 

During a vote, they have to be on the floor — and leaders know it.

Several of those early votes also involve items on the suspension calendar, which means the rules of the House are suspended to pass noncontroversial bills quickly. 

For example, on Tuesday, June 25, one of the votes was to designate the new Interstate Route 20 bridge over the Mississippi River the “Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.” 

It passed easily with 395 yeas and two nays. However, 37 lawmakers missed that vote.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who missed that vote and often misses the first vote series of the week, says he’d rather use the time working on his signature issue of immigration.

“There have been numerous occasions where I have been called to inform and cultivate the forces for immigration reform. So I’m gonna be there,” he told The Hill.

“If the votes on Monday were about healthcare, if the votes on Monday were about nutrition, if the votes on Monday were about national security, if votes on Monday were about how to give kids a better education or how to control gun violence — guess what, I’m in.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who also misses many first-of-the-week votes, agrees. 

“For me to get back for those inconsequential votes that make no difference, on issues that make no difference, I’d have to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and miss a half day with my constituents and my family. So I do not come back for them unless my vote will matter,” he said.

“I’m happy to come back — and I always have — if it looks like my vote will make a difference and have some consequence.”

But the GOP leadership argues the vote has to be held sometime and just because a vote is on the suspension calendar doesn’t make it unimportant.

There hasn’t been a single House vote this session that has seen every sitting member of Congress cast a ballot.

Members can miss votes for a variety of reasons: delayed flights, illness, campaigning or simply avoiding an issue.

Then-Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was criticized in the local media for missing several House votes while he was running in the special election for his state’s Senate seat.

But since joining the Senate in July, Markey has had a perfect voting record, according to govtrack.us, a website that tracks the voting records of every member of Congress.

Even the first vote on the new session, the quorum call held on Jan. 3, saw four House members absent.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) all had deaths in the family and missed the first day.

Lewis’s wife died, and Blumenauer and Roybal-Allard lost their mothers.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) missed it because of flight difficulties coming out of Chicago.

Flight delays are one of the biggest reasons members run late in those first series of votes. 

Often, lawmakers come to the first votes of the week straight from the airport, wearing kakis or jeans. 

In fact, so many members were coming to those votes in casual dress that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took to the House floor to admonish them on the dress code.

But lawmakers who miss those early votes are cognizant it could affect their overall voting record, an issue that could be used against them during their reelection campaigns.

“You really have to pay attention and make every other vote,” Rohrabacher said. “I’ve missed one or two other votes because I forgot to put my card in, because I got into a debate with someone on floor, but I rarely have missed other votes. That’s all I ever miss is these inconsequential votes.”