Marco Rubio touts Foreign Relations work but, review shows, he missed 60 percent of hearings

Sen. Marco Rubio campaigns with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley during an event Thursday  in Greenville, S.C. Rubio has received an endorsement from Gov. Haley, just days prior to the state's GOP primary. [Alex Wong | Getty Images]
Sen. Marco Rubio campaigns with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley during an event Thursday in Greenville, S.C. Rubio has received an endorsement from Gov. Haley, just days prior to the state's GOP primary. [Alex Wong | Getty Images]
Published Feb. 19, 2016

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Jeb Bush tried to slow down Marco Rubio this week in South Carolina by attacking Rubio's claim that Bush has "zero" foreign policy experience.

"Wow, coming from a guy whose office has a hard time actually saying what his accomplishments are," Bush said, adding that the senator's approach is "going to hearings to listen to smart people talk about things rather than actually leading."

Bush used a variation of that line several times this week, which revives questions about Rubio's attendance at Senate Foreign Relations Committee meetings and his overall absenteeism in Washington.

A new, sweeping review of all committees Rubio has sat on since taking office in 2011 paints a bleak picture of participation in the day-to-day responsibilities of the job.

Rubio is on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Commerce and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. The Florida Republican has missed 68 percent of hearings, or 407 of 598 for which records were available.

His skipped 80 percent of Commerce hearings and 85 percent of those held by Small Business, records show.

He has missed 60 percent of Foreign Relations hearings since joining the Senate despite making his committee experience a centerpiece of his qualifications for president.

He attended 68 percent of Intelligence Committee meetings, though that's based on 19 hearings for which records are available. The bulk, 245, were classified so records are unattainable.

The figures are through November 2015, and Rubio's absenteeism has only worsened as he has hit the campaign trail full-time. He already has the worst missed-vote record of any current senator.

"Although scheduling conflicts, personal commitments and the demands of a presidential campaign have resulted in him not having perfect attendance in his committee work, he has also rarely if ever missed committee votes in the four committees he has served on," spokesman Alex Burgos said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

He said those votes were either in person or by proxy, "as committee rules allow." Burgos did not have a breakdown of those types of votes, "just that he is on the record voting in those committees."

Bush and Rubio have increasingly questioned each other on foreign policy since the New Hampshire primary, when Bush bested Rubio.

Bush blasted back by noting his time as governor overseeing the Florida National Guard. He has mentioned his extensive world travel and family. Reciting Rubio's "zero" foreign policy knock before a crowd Tuesday in Aiken, Bush said, "Tell that to Ronald Reagan."

Rubio has sought distance from Washington in this anti-establishment election but has seemed conscious of the message he has sent. Last month, he suddenly left Florida to fly back to Washington for a closed hearing on North Korea's weapons test. He missed most of the meeting anyway.

In November he drew attention for fundraising in California and missing a Foreign Relations hearing on the terror attacks in Paris on NOv. 13 that killed 130 people. Rubio did attend an Intelligence Committee briefing about the attacks the day before. In April, also while on a fundraising trip in California, he missed Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committee hearings on the Islamic State.

On the campaign trail, Rubio continues to use his committee work in arguing he is best qualified despite his youth. He is 44.

"I know I haven't lived as long as some of the people running for president, but no one running for president, especially on the Republican side, has more experience on national security or foreign policy than I do," he said in Wednesday night's CNN town hall from Greenville.

"As both a member of the Intelligence Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee over the last five years, I have been dealing with every single major issue that this country confronts. And I understand these issues well."

Burgos did not dispute the figures but compared Rubio to other senators, using 2014 as a guide. By Burgos' count, Sen. Tim Kaine attended 74 percent of hearings; Bob Menendez, 71 percent; Sen. Bob Corker, 66 percent; and Rand Paul, 19 percent.

His absence from Washington has been an issue for months, and Rubio has countered that he has gotten briefings from staff when he has missed hearings because of campaign obligations.

But the review shows that he was missing hearings well before he launched his campaign. And the pattern extends to his other committee posts.

Rubio has attended only 20 percent of Commerce hearings and 15 percent of Small Business, again in which his attendance could be determined either way. Even if he attended the additional 15 Commerce hearings, he still would have been absent 74 percent of the time.

The questions extend to his day in the Florida House. The Washington Post on Thursday reported that Rubio had missed nearly half of the meetings of a special committee formed after 9/11.

He missed* five of 14, according to records previously obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. Former House Speaker Tom Feeney, who created the committee, declined comment.

Contact Alex Leary at Follow @learyreports.

* EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been corrected to show that Sen. Rubio missed five of 14 meetings of the special Florida House committee formed after 9/11. Earlier it incorrectly said he had attended that many.