By Russell Berman - 10/01/11 06:35 PM EDT
After Standard and Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating in August, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called for Congress to return immediately from its recess to restore the nation’s AAA rating.
But when lawmakers eventually returned to Washington in September, Bachmann did not.
Bachmann spent the month on the presidential campaign trail, where she sought to build on her August victory in the influential Iowa straw poll. She tried to attend President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8, but weather delays caused her to miss the speech.
Bachmann arrived in the Capitol in time to hold a press conference rebutting Obama, and she left town before the first votes the next morning. Bachmann last voted on Aug. 1.
Before the month-long congressional recess, she had missed around 40 percent of House votes since announcing her candidacy.
Bachmann’s absence from Washington is drawing criticism in Minnesota, where Democrats are accusing her of abandoning her constituents while she runs for president. She has represented the state’s 6th District since her first election to Congress in 2006.
The congresswoman’s voting record “is just the most egregious violation,” said Kristin Sosanie, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which is the state’s affiliate of the national Democratic Party.
“It’s just another example of Michele Bachmann shirking her duties and not doing right by the people of her district,” Sosanie said. Bachmann, she added, “is making it clear she doesn’t care about the people of the 6th District.”
Sosanie said that even before she launched her presidential campaign, Bachmann had missed more House votes than any other member of the Minnesota delegation.
A spokeswoman for Bachmann’s congressional office defended Bachmann's absence from Washington and said she remained “in regular contact with her congressional staff.”
“By continuing to lead the fight against President Obama's job-destroying policies, Congresswoman Bachmann is serving not only her constituents, but also the 14 million Americans who are unemployed, and millions more who are reeling from the effects of an economy that's been devastated by over-taxation, over-regulation, and by White House attacks on job creators,” the spokeswoman, Becky Rogness, said. “She remains in regular contact with her congressional staff and is actively ensuring that her constituents in Minnesota's 6th District are being served and represented in Washington.”
Rogness would not describe the job functions that Bachmann does perform beyond saying that “she works with her staff to stay on top of the needs in her district.”
Bachmann’s scant voting record complicates her argument on the campaign trail that she is leading the fight against over-spending in Washington. She did not participate in the congressional dispute last month over spending levels for fiscal 2012, and she did not vote on measures to keep the federal government running past Sept. 30.
“She's making full use of a national platform to take on the president's job-destroying policies head-on,” Rogness said.
She would not say when Bachmann planned to return to Washington. The House has votes scheduled beginning Monday after a week-long recess. “We do not give out her official schedule,” Rogness said.
The other House member currently running for president, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), missed a majority of votes during September but returned for three days of votes in the middle of the month.
The issue is a common dilemma for members of Congress in presidential campaigns.
During the 2008 campaign, a half dozen senators and two House members ran for president and missed dozens of votes over a nearly two-year period. Complaints were muted, however, in the general election when both major party nominees, Barack Obama (D) and John McCain (R), were senators and could not legitimately criticize each other for missing votes.
Both Bachmann and Paul vote frequently against their party, leading to few gripes from GOP leaders when they don’t show up for votes.