A U.S. congressman broke down in tears Friday. After not missing a single one of the 4,289 votes the House has cast since he was sworn in in 2011, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) missed his first one.
Politico's Rachel Bade and Jennifer Haberkorn, who broke the story, write:
Amash was speaking with reporters about the replacement bill in the speakers lobby when he suddenly asked what vote they were on. One reporter told him she believed it was the second amendment in the vote series.
Amash immediately sprinted into the chamber and tried to put his card in the voting slot to cast his yea or nay, but the vote had closed.
. . . When he realized his streak had just ended, the blunt-spoken congressman broke down in tears.
It’s hard to overstate what a big deal this is for Amash, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. He takes immense pride in attempting to be as transparent as possible with his district in western Michigan. That manifested itself in Amash holding the current record for most votes taken in a row (until Friday). He explains every single vote on his Facebook page. His effort for transparency has literally become how he outwardly (and perhaps inwardly) defines himself. Here’s his Twitter bio:
But maybe Amash’s first missed vote in Congress was a good thing for him in the long run. As The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty brought to our attention, one eclectic congressman made 18,401 votes in a row — and kind of regretted it.
“When I talk to new members I say to them maybe it’s better in the beginning to miss one vote that isn’t so important. I say to them I don’t advise you to do this,” Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.) told The Post’s Lois Romano in a 1991 profile, when the congressman was 81. “When you’ve been here as long as I have and never missed a day or a vote, it’s right around your neck.”
It’s right around your neck.
In other words, as one of Congress’s most powerful and revered members was looking back on the pinnacle of his career — four decades’ worth of glory and heartache and power — one of the things he appeared to most regret was his perfect voting record?
That’s some serious stuff, Amash.
To understand why Natcher may have felt this way, we have to rewind to March 3, 1994. It’s an otherwise unremarkable Thursday afternoon. The House is voting on whether to adopt the previous day’s journal, as benign a vote as it gets.
In wheels the 84-year-old Natcher on a hospital gurney. WaPo's Lloyd Grove witnessed what happened next:
Plastic tubes sprouted from his nostrils, an IV was secured to a vein in his arm, and white-uniformed medical attendants gripped the oxygen and glucose-solution tanks out of which the tubes fed into his wraithlike form. Fred Mohrman, the staff director of the Appropriations Committee, led the cheerless entourage through the Capitol basement past gawking staffers and tourists — first down this corridor, then up that one, before securing a private elevator and spiriting the chairman into the Appropriations Committee suite just off the House chamber.
Shortly after 2 p.m., the House voted on whether to adopt the previous day’s journal — a pro forma vote called as an attendance check. Natcher was not about to miss it.
Still hooked up to the oxygen and IV, he was wheeled into the tiled hallway outside the committee offices, where Capitol police officers prevented news photographers from memorializing the scene, and, accompanied by his medical attendants, pushed into the Speaker’s Lobby. As reporters gathered and gaped around him, he glided through the double doors on the left side of the chamber. Dozens of colleagues in the chamber craned their necks to see.
“Thank you very much,” the chairman said feebly, to no one in particular. A gaggle of journalists pressing up against the doors could see [House Speaker Thomas S.] Foley squeezing Natcher's arm and apparently uttering a pleasantry. Wheeled to the podium, Natcher handed a green voting card to a clerk.
It was Natcher’s 18,398th vote, a “yes,” on a procedural issue of no significance whatsoever.
“Mr. Natcher, is it worth it?” one reporter shouted at the dying man, as his keepers wheeled him back to the committee rooms.
Natcher, of course, said nothing. A couple of plainclothes officers muttered unpleasant epithets at the inquiring scribe. Everybody else joined in a collective gasp.
“It’s just become a big deal with him; he’s a prisoner of his perfect voting record,” one lawmaker whispered at the time.
“Casting votes in this chamber is Mr. Natcher’s life,” said another. “His wife has passed away, and his faithfulness to this institution is all he has.”
Natcher died 25 days later.
In that 1991 profile, Natcher told Romano that his legacy happened somewhat by chance. He didn’t even realize he had never missed a vote until 1958, five years into his career. After that, he took no chances with his votes, and he said he’d had “a thousand narrow escapes” — including when his wife of 53 years died. He had accepted he would miss five votes for her funeral, but his grandchildren's travels were delayed, and he was able to stay in Washington to keep his perfect record going.
The stuff of legend, yes. The way Amash — or Natcher — or any lawmaker, for that matter, wants to be remembered forever? Arguably not.
And there, Amash, is your silver lining to Friday’s tearful missed vote. The granddaddy of a perfect voting record in Congress said it’s all right, perhaps even desirable, to miss a vote or three earlier on in your career. You may just be more free to enjoy life without the heavy burden of perfection.