Republican presidential candidate U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during a campaign stop at the V.F.W. Hall in Merrimack, N.H. on March 27, 2015.
Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

The political perils of taking attendance

Updated
In the closing days of the 2014 campaign cycle, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) traveled to North Carolina in the hopes of defeating then-Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). The Republican specifically went after the Democrat for having missed some Senate Armed Services Committee hearings. 
 
“Here we are with Americans being beheaded, and Sen. Hagan doesn’t even show up for the briefing,” McCain griped.
 
The same week, the Arizona Republican traveled to New Hampshire to complain about Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) imperfect attendance at Senate Armed Services Committee meetings. “I don’t see her at very many of the hearings,” McCain said, citing this as proof that the Democrat is not a “serious member” of the panel
 
In retrospect, this might not have been the ideal line of attack for the GOP.
Ted Cruz thunders about what he calls a “fundamentally unserious” U.S. defense policy, but when he had a chance to weigh in during Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, he rarely showed up.
 
Cruz, who announced last week he’s running for president, has the committee’s worst attendance record – by far.
Politico found that Cruz, after just two years on Capitol Hill, has become quite cavalier about showing up for official committee gatherings, skipping 13 of the panel’s 16 hearings this year. The Senate committee has 26 members, and Cruz is literally the only who’s absent more than half the time.
 
Asked for an explanation, Cruz’s office told Politico the senator, because of his lack of seniority, is “often last in line to speak, and any questions he may have for witnesses have already been asked.”
 
That’s true, but the point of the hearings is to help members learn things. Whether or not Cruz has to wait his turn to press witnesses, he might benefit from listening to the Q&A anyway.
 
Simon Maloy raised an excellent point, comparing Cruz to another ambitious young senator from several years ago.
When Obama came into the Senate in 2005, he kept his head down and actually did the nitty-gritty work of a freshman senator, which meant slogging through interminable hearings. Richard Lugar, formerly the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, once concluded a day-long hearing on Iraq by congratulating Obama for being the only committee member to sit through the whole thing. It was minor stuff, but it gave Obama a reputation as someone who was willing to do the basic work needed to get things done, which helped defuse questions about his “experience” when he jumped into the 2008 presidential campaign.
 
Cruz’s strategy is the exact opposite. He’s trying to inflate his own leadership and experience well beyond the reasonable expectations one would have for a freshman senator, and he’s getting tripped up by the reality of his life in the Senate to date.
Cruz and his backers, not surprisingly, balk at the comparison between the Texas Republican and the president they hate, though there are some superficial similarities. Young, ambitious senators from large states? Check. Celebrated orator? Check. Harvard Law Review editor? Check. Son of an immigrant father? Check.
 
But early on in Obama’s Senate career, the Illinois Democrat showed up, did unglamorous work, and put together some legislative accomplishments. Cruz doesn’t like to show up, has no patience for unglamorous work, and hasn’t legislated much at all.
 
If anyone should be annoyed by this comparison, it’s Obama.
 
In fairness, there are better metrics for evaluating lawmakers than committee-hearing attendance, but in 2014, it was Republicans who characterized this as a critical issue, pleading with voters to take this seriously.
 
The trouble is, Republicans can’t pick and choose – it’s tough to tell voters that committee hearings are critically important if a Democrat misses some, but they’re largely irrelevant if a Republican misses most.
 

John McCain, Senate and Ted Cruz

The political perils of taking attendance

Updated