California U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who points to expertise in homeland security issues as a reason for Californians to elect her to the U.S. Senate this fall, has missed more than half the hearings of the House Committee on Homeland Security since she first joined the influential panel 13 years ago.
She’s far from the only one. It’s not uncommon for members of Congress, who may have conflicting meetings or other responsibilities, to miss committee meetings, and there are many with worse records than Sanchez.
But Sanchez has ranked particularly low in attendance in recent years: Last year, she ranked 28th out of 30 committee members after missing seven of the nine full committee hearings for which the Government Publishing Office has transcripts.
She also missed nearly all 2015 meetings of the Subcommittees on Border and Maritime Security and on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, according to the available official transcripts.
Sanchez announced in May of last year that she is running for the Senate to replace the retiring Barbara Boxer – so, not surprisingly, Sanchez spent time in California working on her campaign effort.
But she also missed the bulk of the meetings in 2013 and 2014, including most held by the subcommittees on border security and Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
Sanchez attended nine of the 22 full committee hearings those years, placing her near the bottom in attendance. Among the hearings she missed were “Worldwide Threats to the Homeland” and “The Rising Terrorist Threat and the Unfulfilled 9/11 Recommendations.”
Sanchez joined the Homeland Security Committee in 2003 and has attended 44 percent of the hearings since then, according to a McClatchy analysis of the full-committee hearings for which there are official transcripts released by the Government Publishing Office.
Her attendance record is far from the worst – Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Young of Florida, for example, didn’t show up for a single hearing during his two years on the committee – but it’s below the 55 percent average for members of the committee dating to 2003.
She is known and respected in Congress and the Pentagon for her expertise on military readiness and counterterrorism.
Sanchez spokesman Luis Vizcaino
Sanchez has campaigned on her position as the most senior female member of the Homeland Security Committee, saying she “has emerged as an expert on intelligence and counterterrorism issues.”
Sanchez is also a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, where she is on a pair of subcommittees and is particularly known for her work combating military sexual assault and expanding women’s combat roles. The Armed Services Committee transcripts don’t indicate how many of the meetings Sanchez and other members attended.
Sanchez spokesman Luis Vizcaino said attending hearings was one aspect of her role on both committees, along with subcommittee work, briefings and congressional trips to volatile regions of the globe.
“She is known and respected in Congress and the Pentagon for her expertise on military readiness and counterterrorism,” Vizcaino said in a statement.
“Her work ethic, commitment to her committee role and 20 years of experience on national security issues has provided her with a strong foundation of in-depth knowledge and expertise. Rep. Sanchez is always speaking with leaders and experts to get the information and intelligence needed to make the best decision for the security of this nation,” Vizcaino said.
With gridlock preventing much legislation from passing in Congress, committee attendance has joined other benchmarks in grading lawmakers. Republican candidate George “Duf” Sundheim, who also sought Boxer’s seat, criticized Sanchez in the primary for missing recent hearings.
Sanchez and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, both Democrats, will face off for the Senate seat in the November election after defeating Sundheim and others in California’s open primary election.
Dan Lungren, a former Republican congressman from the Sacramento area who served with Sanchez on the Homeland Security Committee from 2005 until 2013, said in an interview that “there were those who were the show horses and those who were the workhorses.”
Where did Sanchez fit?
“I’ll let you draw conclusions based on your analysis of participation in the meetings,” said Lungren, who usually ranked near the top in attendance at the committee.
Lungren, a former California attorney general who is now a lobbyist, does not rate Sanchez opponent Harris high on the issue of homeland security, either.
“The unfortunate thing for California is we have two candidates running who have not made a priority of what I consider to be the single most important issue facing the United States today,” Lungren said.
Committee meeting attendance is an imperfect way to judge legislators on its own, said Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University. Members of Congress can’t go to every hearing, and attendance has to be evaluated in light of what the lawmaker accomplishes and how significant the committee is to their role, she said.
Often lawmakers just pop into a committee hearing for a few minutes or have staff monitor meetings in their stead.
“There is good work to be done on some issues or investigations, where you might want to take seriously the informational value or the policy value of committee hearings,” Binder said. “It is a mixed bag.”