WASHINGTON — Since announcing his candidacy for president two weeks ago, Rep. Dean Phillips has missed votes on a resolution condemning Hamas’ brutal attack on Israeli civilians, a bill that would help fund Israel’s military, a measure that would oust controversial Rep. George Santos from Congress and dozens of other bills and amendments.
Phillips has also missed debates in Congress over government spending, the best way to avoid a looming government shutdown on Nov. 17 and whether the United States should push for a pause in the fighting in the Middle East, send more U.S. aid to Ukraine or use that money to fortify the nation’s southern border.
Instead, Phillips has been hosting town halls in New Hampshire and participating in the special brand of retail politics the state is famous for. With his decision to challenge President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for president next year, Phillips is now a presidential candidate and not a full-time member of Congress.
And it may be months before Philips gets back to his congressional job on a full-time basis: He has indicated he might not quit his run against Biden until after the March 5 Super Tuesday primaries, which includes Minnesota’s contest.
That decision may have consequences.
While Phillips’ deteriorating voting record may not matter much to his 3rd Congressional District voters initially, it could be used against him by an opponent if Phillips decides to try to keep his seat in Congress, said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Kondik said his absence from the U.S. Capitol and from his Twin Cities suburban district may help his challenger make the case that “Phillips’ presidential bid may have distracted him from more bread-and-butter concerns as a member of the House.”
Republican Michele Bachmann, another Minnesota lawmaker who ran for president, missed a lot of votes. From October of 2011 to January of 2012, when she dropped out of the presidential race, Bachmann missed 91% of the votes in Congress. She was roundly criticized for that by the DFL.
The congresswoman’s voting record “is just the most egregious violation,” Kristin Sosanie, the then-spokeswoman for the DFL, said at the time.
“It’s just another example of Michele Bachmann shirking her duties and not doing right by the people of her district,” Sosanie said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and the five other Democratic senators running for president in 2020 all missed more than 100 votes — with Klobuchar missing about 29% of them in 2019 and 2020 before dropping out of the race. But with a six-year term, Klobuchar was not simultaneously running for reelection for Senate, and her time on the campaign trail and off Capitol Hill did not cause much of a stir.
Kondik, however, said Phillips is most likely to be slammed for his missed votes by a Democratic primary challenge. Ron Harris, a Democratic National Committee member, was the first to challenge Phillips.
But on Thursday, state Sen. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, jumped into the race, saying she would be the only pro-abortion rights OB-GYN in Congress and promising to protect those rights. Previously, Morrison had said she was only interested in running for the seat if Phillips were to not run for reelection. But Democrats had great victories in elections this week in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio on the abortion issue.
In announcing her bid, Morrison said: “We need leaders in Congress who are focused on delivering results.”
Harris has said he is motivated to challenge Phillips because of the lawmaker’s criticisms of Biden’s decision to run for reelection. Phillips said he is challenging Biden because he believes the president, who is 80, is too old to defeat likely GOP candidate Donald Trump.
The Phillips campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
University of Minnesota-Morris political science professor Tim Lindberg said there are some constituents who think a sterling voting record matters.
“And there’s a symbolic aspect,” Lindberg said, of showing up to vote.
Yet, like Kondik, Lindberg said it’s most likely that it will be Phillips’ political opponent who will make missed votes a major issue.
Members of Congress generally miss votes for three reasons: medical absences, major life events like the birth of a child, or running for higher office.
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Most members of Congress, including Phillips before he decided to challenge Biden, are proud of their attendance record and are loath to miss a vote.
According to Govtrack.com, Phillips missed only 0.6% of votes, or six of 998 votes, in the last two-year session of Congress. That put him in about the middle of the pack of House members as far as attendance.
Twenty-one lawmakers, including Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-7th District, had a perfect voting record in the last Congress, missing not a single vote.
Besides facing the daunting task of juggling congressional duties while running for president, Phillips’ decision to challenge Biden has had other major consequences, Lindberg said.
He has been challenged by a more progressive Democrat, Harris, in a congressional district that was once considered “purple” but is becoming more Democratic.
And Lindberg said the decision to challenge Biden has put Phillips in the spotlight, with a lot more scrutiny from the media. That has resulted in recent stories about the lawmaker’s undisclosed purchases of pricey residences in Washington, D.C., and Middleburg, Va., the heart of an elite horse and hunt country, and about some of the donors to his congressional campaign demanding their money back, as well as an unflattering profiles in the Daily Beast.
There’s another drawback, he said.
“(Phillips) will say and do things on the campaign trail that his constituents will want him to explain and he won’t be there,” Lindberg said.