The New Jersey Democrat missed 45 percent of the votes brought before the Senate in the 116th Congress, which began Jan. 3, according to an analysis by NJ Advance Media of data from govtrack.us.
Fellow Sen. Kamala Harris of California was second with an absentee rate of 44 percent, missing one fewer vote than Booker. She entered the presidential race more than a week before he did.
Both U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Bernie Sanders of Vermont missed 40 percent of their votes. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts missed 28 percent of her votes.
Booker spokeswoman Kristin Lynch said the senator was continuing to work for his constituents even while missing some votes.
“Nobody fights harder for New Jersey in the U.S. Senate than Cory Booker,” Lynch said. “He’s been a leader on advocating for New Jersey priorities ranging from clean drinking water to meaningful gun violence reform to key transportation projects like Gateway.”
It’s not unusual for federal lawmakers to be absent from the halls of Congress when they run for the White House, and their absentee rates only increase as the first primaries approach.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was absent for 47 percent of Senate votes from April 2015, when he first announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, to December. During the first three months of 2016, he missed 90 percent.
Another 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, skipped 29 percent of Senate votes from April to December 2015 and 95 percent from January to March 2016.
And U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, missed 80 percent of the votes that year.
Despite his absences, Booker made sure to return to the Senate last month to question FBI Director Christopher Wray before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and again to vote for the legislation permanently providing benefits for injured 9/11 first responders.
Booker was there to back the Senate version of the defense policy bill that included protections for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, even as five other senators running for president, Harris, Gillibrand, Sanders, Warren and Michael Bennet of Colorado, were absent.
He testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee in June on his bill to form a commission to study whether the country’s African Americans should receive reparations. He was at the Capitol in March to meet with Gateway Tunnel officials, after which he offered to name the project after President Donald Trump if that’s what it took to get the it funded.
Booker fought back against Trump’s unsuccessful effort to add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census in a move seen as a way to discourage Latinos from filling out the forms, shifting power and money away from New Jersey and other states with large Hispanic populations.
And he worked to get reimbursement for local airports forced to curtail operations whenever the president visited Bedminster. Solberg and Somerset airports lost an estimated $10,000 in profits every time Trump came to his golf club, forcing flights to be restricted, the New Jersey Aviation Association said last year.
Even so, the head of New Jersey’s Republican Party said Booker should spend more time on his senatorial duties.
“Cory Booker is more interested in being Hollywood’s senator than New Jersey’s senator,” Chairman Doug Steinhardt said. “Instead of spending his time trying to dig New Jersey out of the financial basement, he’s chasing national attention for himself and his failed presidential campaign.
“How does he expect to get the Gateway Tunnel done from South Carolina or California? New Jersey is consistently last among every other state in what we get back from Washington versus what we send and Cory Booker is not the solution.”
Said Lynch: “The notion that Cory isn’t concerned about his state is just a baseless attempt to smear his record.”
Booker’s national ambitions, however, didn’t appear to sit well with New Jerseyans who remembered then-Gov. Chris Christie’s failed run for president four years earlier. Christie spent all or part of 261 days (including day trips to New York City) outside New Jersey in 2015, when he campaigned for president. He left office with record low poll numbers.
In a Monmouth University poll released in February after Booker entered the race, only 36 percent of New Jerseyans said he would do a good job as president, as opposed to 42 percent who said he wouldn’t. And his job approval rating declined to 48 percent from 54 percent the previous April while his disapproval rating rose to 38 percent, his highest ever, from 31 percent.
Still, if Booker’s presidential campaign fails and he instead runs for re-election to the Senate next year, may all be forgiven, unlike with Christie, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
“The bottom line is people expect more from their governor than from their senator in terms of being on the job all the time,” Murray said.
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