WASHINGTON – Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand saw a lot of the country during her failed campaign for the presidency – but she also missed more than a third of the Senate's votes.
Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, didn't show up for 38% of the Senate's votes between Jan. 20 and this Tuesday, according to statistics compiled by GovTrack, a website that keeps close track of what Congress is doing or not doing.
Three Democratic candidates missed more votes than Gillibrand. Sen. Kamala Harris of California missed half her votes. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey missed nearly half: 48%. And Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont missed 45%.
Of course, all three of those candidates are still running for the Democratic nomination and still missing votes. Gillibrand, mired near the bottom of the polls, pulled the plug on her effort on Aug. 28 and returned to her job as a full-time senator.
Asked about her missed votes, Gillibrand downplayed them.
"While running for president, I continued to stay laser-focused on the needs of New York," she said. "And I actually passed two major pieces of legislation that I've been working on for a decade."
Those two bills are a measure to extend the federal government's coverage for Agent Orange exposure to Navy veterans who served off the shores of Vietnam between 1962 and 1975, as well as legislation to permanently extend the compensation fund for people who became ill after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
None of the 104 votes Gillibrand missed were particularly close. The largest share involved the confirmation of federal judges and lower-level Trump administration figures.
Gillibrand said that's a reflection of the way Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is running the Senate.
"He's really reduced the legislative process to just up or down votes on judges or cabinet members, which is really harmful to New York, because a lot of the legislation I've been writing and trying to get votes on and talking about in New York and on the campaign trail around the country could really help people," she said.
Gillibrand did miss some major votes. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she missed the passage of the bill authorizing defense programs for the coming year, as well as the confirmation vote for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley. She also missed a vote on emergency funding to handle the influx of undocumented migrants at the southern border.
Gillibrand missed more votes than Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the front-runners in the race, who was absent for 34% of the votes.
And two senators who are running for president — Michael Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — missed only 27% of their votes. That's 11 percentage points fewer than Gillibrand missed.
During the first nine months of 2007, the last U.S. senator from New York to run for president — Hillary Rodham Clinton — missed only 15.7% of the Senate's votes.
That being the case, New York State Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy lashed out at Gillibrand's voting record.
Noting that Gillibrand indicated during her 2018 race for re-election that she would not run for president, only to do so and miss plenty of votes in the process, Langworthy said: "Why would anyone believe that she has their best interests in her heart as a U.S. senator?"
Independent sources, however, didn't make much of Gillibrand's missed votes.
"This is very normal," said Joshua Tauberer, president of GovTrack. "In every election, the major candidates who are also serving in Congress miss votes while they're campaigning because they're out campaigning. And to the extent that this is normal, it's not really particularly significant."
Peter Yacobucci, an associate professor of political science at SUNY Buffalo State, agreed.
"I know in previous elections this was a minor issue for particular candidates," Yacobucci said. "But even with the candidates in which missed votes was emphasized by their opponents or media, I cannot remember a single example where it had any measurable impact on candidate support at the ballot."
Gillibrand, who was appointed to the Senate in 2009, won a new six-year term in the Senate last year. She will not be up for re-election again until 2024.