Advertisement
  1. Opinion

PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking Gov. Rick Scott's attack on Sen. Bill Nelson for skipping security hearings

Then-Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, talks with he committee's ranking member, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., center, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., right, before the committee's hearing on U.S. military operations to counter the Islamic State in Iraq on Sept. 16, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Published Oct. 7, 2018

Gov. Rick Scott portrays U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson as an "empty chair" who often skips meetings on the important topic of security.

"Nelson skipped 45 percent of the hearings on national security," said a TV ad from Scott's campaign. "National security! Bill Nelson doesn't write laws — he doesn't even show up."

The ad refers to Nelson's tenure on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Nelson is defending his seat in a close battle with Scott.

Attacks for missed hearings are common. But these attacks omit several caveats about committee attendance.

"I have never been one that put much stock in the 'attendance' statistics to measure a senator's work" on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Arnold Punaro, who served as the committee's Democratic staff director from 1983 to 1997.

Scott's campaign published a spreadsheet showing that between 2001 and 2018, Nelson missed 45 percent (or 284 out of 636) of Senate Armed Service Committee hearings. (He wasn't on the committee in 2011-12.) The campaign said it counted full committee hearings and subcommittees on which Nelson served and was expected to attend.

Nelson's attendance varied with each two-year congressional session, ranging from 44 percent in 2005-06 to 76 percent for the current 2017-18 session.

Scott's campaign pulled attendance records from the Senate Armed Services Committee website and the Government Printing Office. However, attendance isn't published for closed or classified hearings.

Since there aren't public attendance records for all types of hearings, that means we don't get the full picture of Nelson's service on the committee.

Dan McLaughlin, Nelson's spokesman, said by his count Nelson attended 104 of 126 Armed Services hearings, informal meetings, sessions and briefings — including more than two dozen that were closed or classified — in 2017-18.

PolitiFact can't verify the Nelson campaign's figures since that includes meetings that lack a public attendance record.

Experts on Congress agreed that a straight-up attendance record doesn't tell us much.

"A hearing about a national security threat, for example, is much more significant than routine budget hearings the (committee) holds every fiscal year," said Georgetown University professor Joshua Huder, who studies Congress.

It is common for senators, who serve on multiple committees and subcommittees, to miss hearings.

Sometimes, multiple committees will hold hearings at the same time, forcing the senator to split their time or prioritize one hearing over another.

Roll Call, a Washington publication that regularly covers Congress, wrote in 2014 that unless the senator wields the gavel, he or she may only show up for five minutes, or when it is their turn to ask questions.

"The results include guffaw-inducing scenes where even senior lawmakers enter the wrong hearing room, misidentify a witness and question the wrong person on the other side of the dais," Roll Call wrote.

Because the Scott campaign's data omits that for some types of hearings there is no publicly available attendance record, this count is not perfect.

We rate this statement Mostly True.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com/florida.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. 15 minutes ago• Opinion
    An elderly couple walks down a hall of a nursing home. MATT ROURKE  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
  2. A huge number of homes owned by Baby Boomers will sell in the next 20 years. How will the trend affect the Florida housing market? CAMERON GILLIE  |  NAPLES DAILY NEWS
    The enormous generation born between 1946 and 1964 owns about 40 percent of the homes across the country.
  3. The Reed at Encore, one of Tampa's signature affordable housing projects
    Here’s what readers had to say in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  4. Standardized test scores paint a bleak picture of stagnation, not progress.
  5. Focus on better standard pay and creating classrooms where their students can thrive.
  6. Pastor Jeremiah Saunders poses for a photo among the ruins of his church that was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, on Sept. 11, 2019. RAMON ESPINOSA  |  AP
    Where does “strong” begin and, more important, where does it end? So asks this columnist.
  7. Elementary school students go through the lunch line in the school's cafeteria in Paducah, Kentucky. ELLEN O'NAN  |  AP
    Why, just think of all the savings from cutting school lunch programs, writes Daniel Ruth.
  8. Conservative critics of the Pasco school district's stance on LGBTQ issues have complained to the School Board for a year, and show no indication of backing down. They've been wearing t-shirts saying 'Pasco kids at risk' — something district officials strongly reject. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    Students offer a lesson in civility and acceptance.
  9. Rep. Crist champions a way to cut down on spam callers.
  10. Attorney General William Barr speaks with members of the press before participating in a law enforcement roundtable at the Flathead County Sheriff's Posse in Evergreen, Mont. PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Attorney General Barr should not threaten communities that question police conduct
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement