WASHINGTON - As Rep. Michele Bachmann ramps up her campaign for president, her voting record in Congress is falling.
In all, Bachmann voted just twice in the past week, skipping 45 out of 47 House roll-call votes since last Friday. She returned to Congress only to vote on the "Cut, Cap and Balance" bill Tuesday evening. She was missing in Washington the past two days as debate on the debt ceiling intensified and the deadline for default neared.
Bachmann has not made a public appearance since Wednesday in Iowa. Campaign spokesman Doug Sachtleben said Bachmann was back in Minnesota's Sixth District Thursday and Friday, but he would not say what she was doing in Minnesota or why she wasn't voting in Washington. She is scheduled to return to Iowa to campaign Saturday.
Bachmann's missed votes this week are the first large chunk she's skipped since she began running for president last month. Presidential candidates frequently miss votes out on the campaign trail: then-Sens. Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton missed hundreds of votes in 2007 and 2008 leading up to the election.
This year Bachmann and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas are the only two members of Congress making a serious White House bid. Before she announced she was seeking the Republican nomination for president, Bachmann missed just one of the first 412 roll-call votes in 2011, a quorum call.
Since the June New Hampshire debate in which Bachmann announced she was as running for president, she has missed 51 votes. Paul has missed 11 in that time period.
"For a presidential candidate it's typical, although it's not typical this early," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert with the American Enterprise Institute. "If you're running, you're not going to do it in a halfway form."
Bachmann wasn't supposed to miss any votes this week. The House had a recess scheduled, but Republican leaders canceled it as the debt limit debate consumed Washington. The House continued holding votes as its leaders negotiated. Bachmann missed votes on a Federal Aviation Administration funding extension and scaling back the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that passed last year. Bachmann's first bill in 2011 was to repeal Dodd-Frank.
Bachmann has been outspoken on the debt-limit debate, standing in contrast to her party's leaders by saying she will not vote to raise the debt ceiling. Since Wednesday, however, she's been silent on the issue as House Speaker John Boehner clashes with President Obama.
Absenteeism to increase
Since June, Bachmann has mostly campaigned in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina on the weekends and during congressional recesses while maintaining her profile in Washington.
Her absenteeism in Washington will likely grow as the campaign intensifies, though it isn't likely to harm her prospects of winning the Republican nomination. But if she does not win the nomination and runs for re-election to her Sixth District seat, a spotty voting record could revive opponents' charges from the 2010 campaign that she wasn't representing her district.
Ornstein said Bachmann has won under difficult circumstances before, but a presidential campaign invites an additional layer of scrutiny. She got a taste of that this week as she faced a barrage of questions about her migraine headaches. "The more prominent she gets, more you're going to see her rivals dig into some of these things," he said. "People may find out things about her and her family that they never knew before."
Jeremy Herb • 202-408-2723 Twitter: @StribHerb