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PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact Florida: Patrick Murphy's attack about Marco Rubio's voting record is accurate

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy wasted no time attacking incumbent Marco Rubio's voting record after handily winning the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

When Rubio challenged Murphy to six debates, the Jupiter Democrat countered that Rubio was more concerned about a future presidential run than serving in the Senate, something he said is proven by the senator's record.

"Sen. Rubio has the worst vote attendance record of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years," Murphy said in a statement Wednesday.

We've already noted that Rubio has had an exceptionally bad voting record among presidential candidates who served in the U.S. Senate, although not necessarily the worst. But where does he stand among Florida senators of years past? We checked the record to see if he had the worst absentee record in almost half a century.

To check this claim, we turned to GovTrack, which keeps a record of votes by members of Congress. Because we're going back "nearly 50 years," we had to look back to at least 1966.

Rubio's overall absentee rate — the percentage of all the votes he's missed during his first term — is 14.5 percent.

That's considerably higher than the 1.7 percent average absentee rate among all senators in the same time period.

His counterpart, Democrat Bill Nelson, has a 2.2 percent absentee rate since 2001, and 3.3 percent since Rubio took office in 2011.

As Murphy's campaign said, the last senator from Florida to exceed Rubio's rate was George Smathers, a Democrat who had a 23.6 percent absentee rate over his 18 years in office.

We'll note there was a significant uptick in missed votes during the end of Smathers' last term, from 1966 onward, which is 50 years ago. He missed 435 of 835 votes, or more than 52 percent, during his final four years. After that, Smathers declined to run for re-election and became a lobbyist.

If we look at the sheer number of missed votes over a similar length of time, Paula Hawkins skipped 245 over six years (Jan. 1, 1981 – Jan. 3, 1987), while Edward Gurney missed 293 (Jan. 3, 1969 – Dec. 31, 1974). Those are both more than Rubio's 234 missed votes. But those two had significantly more votes to miss, so we think the absentee rates carry more weight.

Other presidential candidates who were senators do miss plenty of votes. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who also ran for the 2016 Republican nomination, missed 139 of 321 votes between April 2015 and June 2016, an absentee rate of 43.3 percent. His career rate is 18.1 percent.

In 2008, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois missed 137 out of 213 votes as he ran for president, or 64.3 percent of votes. His career absentee rate was 24.2 percent. In 2004, then-U.S. Sen John Kerry of Massachusetts missed 89.8 percent of votes. His career rate was 7.7 percent.

But back to Floridians: A Rubio spokesman pointed out that Bob Graham, who ran for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, missed about the same number of votes during his campaign as Rubio did.

That was a compelling bit of trivia to check. We found that between April 2015 and March 2016, the months Rubio was on the trail, he missed 157 of 242 votes, a 65 percent absentee rate. (Rubio's campaign clarified that he both declared and ended his campaign in the middle of those months, so his absentee rate then was 53.3 percent.)

Graham missed 149 of 459 votes between January and November 2003, roughly the time he considered and campaigned for the presidency. That's an absentee rate of 32 percent. He underwent heart surgery on Jan. 31 that year, which caused him to miss votes before his official campaign launch on May 6. (Rubio's campaign noted that between May 6 and when Graham dropped out on Oct. 6, Graham's absentee rate was 50.4 percent.)

That overall period also accounted for three-quarters of Graham's missed votes over 18 years in the Senate. Graham routinely spent months without missing a single roll call vote.

Finally, overall voting trends in the U.S. Senate do change. Spessard Holland was a senator for 24 years between 1946 and 1971. GovTrack noted that in that time period, the average absentee rate for his peers was considerably higher — 14.5 percent.

There are plenty of ways to slice the data, but the roll call has been recorded. We rate the statement Mostly True.

Edited for print. Read more fact-checks at PolitiFact.com/florida.

The statement

"Sen. Rubio has the worst vote attendance record of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years."

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, in a statement Wednesday

The ruling

Rubio has the highest absentee rate since George Smathers, who left office in 1969. Some senators missed more votes overall, and his record is largely in line with other presidential candidates from the U.S. Senate. We rate the statement Mostly True.

PolitiFact Florida: Patrick Murphy's attack about Marco Rubio's voting record is accurate 09/04/16 [Last modified: Sunday, September 4, 2016 7:21pm]
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