- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2010

Sen. Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat newly elected to replace the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, has raised eyebrows in the state after opting to attend a family event while skipping a pair of politically sensitive Senate votes over the weekend.

His absence didn’t change the outcome of the votes to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay personnel or the failure of a major immigration bill, known as the “Dream Act.” But it came as a surprise to many of his fellow lawmakers who have seen ailing colleagues wheeled in just to raise a thumb for aye or point it down for nay.

“The senator and his wife had a commitment with his grandchildren that he felt that he could not break,” said Manchin spokeswoman Sara Payne Scarbro, adding that Mr. Manchin’s opposition to both bills have been added to the congressional record. “He regrets missing the votes.”

But the decision by Mr. Manchin, a former governor, to skip the votes also handed Republicans fodder to question the new senator’s work ethic in advance of an expected 2012 re-election bid. The GOP’s suggestion for Mr. Manchin’s campaign slogan:

“No voting, no labels - and no skipping Christmas parties, no matter what.”

And at least some West Virginia Democrats were also upset by the move. West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue compared Mr. Manchin’s decision unfavorably with the voting record compiled by Mr. Byrd.

“Unfortunately, Sen. Joe Manchin isn’t demonstrating characteristics of a great senator during his first month in office,” Mr. Perdue said in a statement Monday. “Avoiding key votes on the [Dream Act] and the repeal of the military ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy - issues central not only to the citizens of West Virginia, but to our nation - isn’t just a bad political maneuver, it is ineffective representation and leadership.”

Indeed, even Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, showed up to vote Saturday - two days before he was scheduled to undergo surgery for prostate cancer. And Mr. Byrd himself showed up for votes well after he couldn’t walk on his own. Memorably, Sen. Pete Wilson, California Republican, just hours after surgery, was wheeled into the Senate chamber in 1985 to cast his vote on President Reagan’s budget.

Mr. Manchin’s absence Saturday excused him from having to go on the record on two potentially uncomfortable matters before the Senate.

Had he attended the session, Mr. Manchin would likely have been the only Democrat to vote no on repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban. The bill passed 65-31 and is set to be signed by President Obama on Wednesday.

He has also opposed the Dream Act, which would have granted young illegal immigrants a route to legal status. The 55-41 vote fell five short of the 60 required to advance the legislation.