In just over 14 months in the House of Representatives, the Republican congressman from Tennessee has never missed a vote. More than 1,000 times, Fleischmann has cast his ballot for Tennessee’s third district.
“I’m very, very thankful that I’ve been able to maintain a 100 percent voting record,” Fleischmann said. “I work hard everyday to make sure that I’m here for votes. Its just part of my overall consensus effort towards being a good congressman and a good representative.”
Fleischmann is one of seven freshmen – five Republicans and two Democrats –who have maintained perfect voting records in the 112th Congress. As a whole, the Class of 2011 has missed fewer than 2 percent of all votes. According to Congressional Quarterly magazine, members of the House of Representatives missed 5.7 percent of votes in 2008.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said congressmen show up for as many votes as they can because they are committed to their constituents and their issues.
“I think it shows that we take very seriously the responsibilities of the job, and to the extent that we are able to, live up to the trust people put in us,” Chabot said.
Chabot, among the freshmen with perfect voting records in the Class of 2011, previously served in the House from 1995 to 2009. Even then, Chabot said, he took his election as a covenant with his constituents to be their voice in Congress.
“When I was a freshman the first time in ’94, there was 73 Republicans and 12 Democrats that year and I know my first year I was the only one of the 73 Republicans that didn’t miss a vote the entire first year. So this is nothing new for me,” Chabot said.
The perfect voting record may seem like a great bragging point for congressmen, but several, including Fleischmann, say they downplay their perfect scores.
“I have found that when I speak with groups they like it a lot. It’s the one line that seems to get a tremendous amount of applause when it is brought to their attention, but I really don’t tout it that much because I just view that as part of my job as being a congressman,” Fleischmann said.
According to Fleischmann, he did not even know he had gone an entire year without missing a vote until he was told.
“I really was not paying attention to the fact that it was a 100 percent voting record … so it was a nice thing to have, but it’s just part of my job as a congressman,” Fleischmann said.
Chabot agreed that bragging isn’t in order. He said he does not look down on congressmen who have missed a vote on occasion.
“Things happen of course; sometimes that can’t be avoided. There are deaths in families, there are flights that get canceled, so I don’t fault anybody that has missed a vote, but I personally have always been very careful about it,” Chabot said.
While Chabot, Fleischmann and five other freshman lawmakers are perfect voters, some veteran congressmen also have impressive statistics for the 112th Congress. Six experienced congressmen also made every vote, including Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., who has not missed a vote since being elected in 2006.
“To never miss a vote, you are here in Washington voting on all of the bills, and amendments and rules. Everything that goes on the House floor,” said Altmire spokesman Richard Carbo. “He takes it very seriously. He knows that it’s his job. It’s as simple as that.”
Historically speaking, Altmire’s streak is not overly impressive. Rep. William Natcher, D-Ky., set the pace, casting 18,401 consecutive votes between 1954 and 1994.
In order to make every vote, congressmen have to be able to get to the Capitol at a moment’s notice.
“It’s a very easy thing to miss a vote because of the rapid pace, especially during the amendments of two-minute votes,” Fleischmann said. “And there are times when I have been across town speaking at events and my staff has been able to get me to the Capitol in time to get me to vote.”
Fleischmann also takes precautions when flying from his districtto Washington. He said he could take a direct flight from Chattanooga which would cut many Monday night votes close, but he choose to instead take an earlier flight with connections.
Most congressmen go back to their districts each weekend to meet with constituents and raise money for the next election. It is up to congressmen and their staffs to balance time in their districts with time in the Capitol. Laurel Harbridge, assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, said that while constituents may not care too much if a congressman has a perfect record, they will likely care if he misses votes.
“When people have relatively poor records of attendance, that has come up as a negative against them in campaigns,” Harbridge said.
In order to allow congressmen to designate time for policy work in Washington and fundraising in their districts, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor built Constituent Work Weeks into the schedule of the 112th Congress. At least once a month, the House takes a week off to permit congressmen to spend time at home.
Several congressmen enjoy this schedule because it lets them plan events long in advance and keep the big appearances off the weekends. Fleischmann said he enjoys the schedule because it lets him go to each corner of his geographically spread-out district very often.
“I credit our leadership with creating a calendar where all members, Republican and Democrat, can actually know when they are going to be in session, when they’re not, and it allows us to plan better and serve our constituents,” Fleischmann said.