- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2018

Rep. Steve Knight is still tweeting like he’s a member of Congress, but he’s not voting like one.

In fact, he’s not voting at all anymore.

Mr. Knight, a California Republican, lost his re-election bid last month and, save for a couple of instances, has been absent from the floor, missing every vote Congress has taken since Thanksgiving.

Republican Rep. Kristi Noem did return briefly last week for votes after having missed all of the action in November and early December. Her focus is in South Dakota, where she was elected governor, leaving her congressional work in the lurch.

Callers to her office even get a message telling them there’s nobody at home and to try the state’s two senators if they need help.

Departing representatives have been moved out of their offices and assigned to space in cubicles in the basement of an office building, adding to the difficulty of reaching them.

That was the case for Rep. Jeff Denham, who lost his re-election bid, and has all calls to his D.C. office automatically forwarded to his office Modesto, California.

The same can’t be said for Mr. Knight, who has disconnected the phones in his district office in California. The voice mail at his number in Washington is full and rejecting new messages.

The absences are a potential problem for Republican leaders who might need to scrounge every vote of support as they prepare for a shutdown battle with Democrats this week.

The absences also are troubling for constituents who had elected their lawmakers for a two-year term but are getting less than that.

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at the ethics watchdog group Public Citizen, said it’s not a rare issue for lame-duck sessions.

“We certainly want members of Congress to fulfill their mandates to their constituents and vote whenever they are required to do so,” she said. “When folks are wrapping up their government service and feeling a little more disconnected from the votes that are taking here, it’s fairly regular for people to miss a significant series of votes.”

Republicans are the most noticeable of the absentees — both because their leaders need them and because they have the most incentive to duck out, after getting steamrolled by Democrats in the House elections last month.

The GOP will lose the majority it held for the last eight years once the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.

Big bills still can draw some of the reluctant losers back to do their duty.

Several lawmakers who had missed a dozen or more votes over the last few weeks showed up to approve the farm bill last week.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise warned Republicans at a conference last week that they need to show up for looming shutdown votes this week, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Ms. Gilbert argued there is no justifiable reason for members to miss votes, unless they are ill or have a family emergency, which at least two lawmakers did.

Katherine Sears, a spokeswoman for Rep. Lou Barletta, who missed 14 votes since the midterms, told The Washington Times that he has been holding events in his district while visiting his 20-month-old grandson who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

“For the past eight years, the congressman has been dedicated to serving the people of Pennsylvania’s 11th District and he will continue to serve them to the best of his ability until his term has been completed,” she said.

Rep. Walter Jones Jr., who missed more than 25 votes since September, was granted a leave of absence from the House last Tuesday.

Representatives for Mr. Knight and Mr. Jones didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

“This time of year in particular as the session is closing out and the holidays are upon us, I imagine people think this is flying under the radar and that’s what they can get away with,” Ms. Gilbert said.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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