Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Sen. John Kerry canceled a planned campaign trip to New Mexico yesterday to vote on an amendment boosting support for veterans, but never got the chance as Republicans refused to call for a vote.

“I canceled my events, and I returned here hoping to be able to vote on this important issue,” said Mr. Kerry of Massachusetts. He added that in the past the Senate would have extended him the courtesy of voting.

“Evidently, this is not a normal time for those courtesies in the life of the Senate,” he said. “I regret that, for the Senate and for the country and for veterans.”

He said the amendment to the pending defense authorization bill, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, would have allowed 500,000 more veterans to have full health coverage.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he would not schedule a special vote just for Mr. Kerry.

“The Daschle amendment appears to have been put on the floor so Senator Kerry, who hasn’t been here all year, missed 80 percent of the votes, parachutes in for one day and then he’s out of here, can vote,” Mr. Frist said. “I don’t know, but the vote schedule will take place as the floor managers allow.”

“That is petty. That is small,” Mr. Daschle said.

Mr. Kerry did get to be part of the Senate photo taken in the afternoon, and was able to vote on several other amendments, including one cutting missile-defense programs, which failed, and one increasing penalties for broadcast indecency, which passed.

They were the first roll call votes he has cast since March 25, when he voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

That’s not to say that Mr. Kerry has been away the whole time. One day last week, he was at the Capitol, and spent time talking with Mr. Daschle and other senators outside the Senate chamber, though he missed all six roll call votes that day.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, who testified before a Senate committee yesterday, said Mr. Kerry is missing so many votes that he should resign.

“He’s missed 87 percent of the votes that the Senate has taken on a roll call basis this year,” Mr. Romney said. “It is, in my view, something which is a real problem.”

Mr. Romney also said that Mr. Kerry missed a vote on extending unemployment compensation, which failed in the Senate by one vote. He said Massachusetts had stood to gain $75 million from the federal government had the measure passed.

“We need to have two U.S. senators from Massachusetts, not one,” said Mr. Romney, who would be the one to name a successor if Mr. Kerry stepped down during his presidential campaign.

Mr. Kerry’s presence at the weekly party lunches yesterday invigorated his fellow Democratic senators.

“Our next president is in there,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, told reporters that he understood why Mr. Kerry had canceled the trip to his state, and that there will be plenty of other chances to visit a place that is expected to be hotly contested in the election this fall.

• Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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