The United States Senate is one of the most important institutions in American politics. As the upper chamber of the United States Congress, the Senate plays a critical role in deliberating and passing legislation, as well as confirming presidential nominees to key positions within the government. And yet, for the past seven months, the Senate has been plagued by persistent absenteeism, with many lawmakers skipping crucial votes and committee hearings. This has had significant implications for the Democrats’ plan to get more judicial nominees through the Senate, and has raised questions about the effectiveness of Congress as a whole.
The problem of absenteeism in the Senate is not a new one. Lawmakers from both parties have a long history of skipping out on votes and failing to attend committee hearings. However, the current level of absenteeism is truly unprecedented. According to recent data, nearly one in five senators missed more than 10% of votes during the first six months of the current session of Congress. This level of absenteeism is significantly higher than in previous sessions, and has been especially problematic for the Democrats, who are trying to pass key pieces of legislation and confirm numerous judicial nominees.
To understand the impact of this absenteeism on the Democrats’ plan to get more judicial nominees through the Senate, it is important to look at the confirmation process itself. When a president nominates someone for a federal judgeship, that nomination must first be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for vetting judicial nominees and sending them to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote. If the Judiciary Committee gives its approval, the nomination then moves to the full Senate, where it must be approved by a simple majority vote.
The confirmation process may seem straightforward, but it is actually quite complex and can take months or even years to complete. And in order for the process to move forward smoothly, it is critical that senators attend committee hearings and votes, as well as the final confirmation vote on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, the current level of absenteeism has made it much harder for the Democrats to get their nominees through the process.
One of the main reasons why absenteeism is such a problem for the Democrats is that the Senate is currently evenly split between the two parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote. This means that every vote counts, and any absence can potentially derail the Democrats’ plans. For example, in July of this year, the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on the nomination of Myrna Pérez to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the hearing had to be postponed because only two of the nine Republican members of the committee showed up, meaning there was not enough of a quorum to proceed.
The problem of absenteeism extends beyond committee hearings, however. Even when nominees make it to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote, their fate can be uncertain if enough senators are not present to vote. This was the case in June of this year, when the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the powerful DC Circuit Court of Appeals was approved by a narrow margin of 53-44. However, this vote was only possible because a number of Republicans were absent from the Senate that day, making it easier for the Democrats to secure the necessary votes. If all senators had been present, the outcome of the vote could have been very different.
Of course, absenteeism is not solely a Democratic problem. Republicans have also been known to miss important votes and committee hearings, although the extent of their absenteeism is not as severe as that of the Democrats. However, given the current political climate, it is the Democrats who have the most to lose from absenteeism. With control of both the White House and Congress, the Democrats have a rare opportunity to push through significant legislation and confirm numerous judicial nominees. But if they cannot get their members to attend key votes and hearings, their chances of success are greatly diminished.
So why are so many senators missing important votes and hearings? There are likely a number of factors at play, including personal health issues and scheduling conflicts. However, one key reason is that many lawmakers simply do not see the value in attending every single vote or hearing. With a busy schedule of meetings, constituent outreach, and fundraising, senators may feel that they have more important things to do than attend a committee hearing or stay for an after-hours vote. This is especially true for lawmakers who represent safe districts or states, as they do not face as much pressure to show up for every vote.
Another factor contributing to absenteeism is the Senate’s current dysfunctional nature. In recent years, the Senate has become increasingly polarized and partisan, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle engaging in personal attacks and name-calling. This toxic atmosphere has made it difficult for senators to work together and find common ground, which in turn has made many lawmakers reluctant to attend meetings and votes. When the atmosphere is toxic, it is difficult to get work done.
There is no easy solution to the problem of absenteeism in the Senate. However, there are a few steps that could be taken to encourage more lawmakers to attend votes and hearings. One possible approach is to make it mandatory for senators to attend committee hearings, with penalties for those who do not show up. Another possibility is to streamline the nomination and confirmation process, making it less time-consuming and less reliant on every single member of the Senate being present. Whatever the solution, it is clear that a more engaged, present Senate is critical to the functioning of American democracy.
In conclusion, the issue of absenteeism in the Senate is a serious one, and is especially problematic for the Democrats as they try to get more judicial nominees through the confirmation process. With one in five senators missing important votes and hearings, the Senate is struggling to function effectively, and the confirmation process is being slowed down significantly. While there is no easy solution to this problem, it is clear that something must be done to encourage senators to attend more meetings and votes. The health of American democracy depends on it.