The 11 Democratic lawmakers vying for their party’s presidential nomination missed several crucial votes this week on border security and the military budget to participate in debates. They had already missed more than a dozen votes since announcing their candidacies.

It’s an almost impossible balance between running an aggressive presidential campaign, with town halls and fundraisers, and fulfilling their duties as lawmakers — and it happens every four years to members of Congress.

Just ask a Republican.

“You can’t balance it. Either you’re campaigning or you’re here,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who came under fire for missing a high number of votes during the 2016 campaign. “There is no one who has run a credible campaign for president or senator who hasn’t missed votes.” 

While some members of Congress across the aisle are sympathetic to the presidential contenders, others, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are decidedly less so. 

McConnell responded to calls to delay votes until after the presidential debates by blaming Democrats for their absences. 

“I’m sorry our Democratic friends feel compelled to skip out so they can compete for the favor of ‘the Resistance,’ ” McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “The rest of us, the Republican majority, we’re going to be right here. We’re going to be right here working and voting to make America stronger and safer.” 

This week marked the first major pieces of legislation to reach the House and Senate floor without the vast majority of congressional 2020 candidates present. When the House passed its border security bill Tuesday, only one of the four lawmakers in the 2020 race, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), showed up to vote. On Wednesday afternoon, when the Senate passed a $4.6 billion border assistance bill, none of the senators vying for the Democratic nomination were present. 

In the flurry of legislative activity before the July 4 recess, a vote on a massive national defense bill also threatened to reach the floor without several key Democratic lawmakers. But the Senate unanimously decided to allow traveling senators to vote on the amendment Friday, though the chamber plans to hold a full vote on the National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday. 

The Senate has not always accommodated presidential candidates when it comes to the defense bill. When the legislation authorizing funds for the Pentagon and related agencies reached the Senate floor Nov. 10, 2015, the candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination had a debate in Milwaukee. As a result, Rubio and Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) all missed the vote. 

While this week marks the first time 2020 contenders are missing votes on major pieces of legislation on Capitol Hill, it is far from the first set of votes they have missed while campaigning. During this legislative session, which began in January, senators running for president have missed anywhere from 16 to 68 votes — with Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) on the low end and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) garnering the most absences so far. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have each missed fewer than 30 votes this session. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) were each absent for upward of 44. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has missed 36 votes so far. 

Of the growing collection of presidential candidates’ absences on votes, the vast majority so far have been for judicial nominees. These measures require only 51 votes to pass, meaning that Republican lawmakers can successfully approve Trump administration nominees without any Democratic support. 

“When the bulk of the Senate’s agenda is handling Trump administration nominations, there are not any party expectations, yet alone institutional expectations, for senators running for president to be there,” said Sarah A. Binder, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. 

In the House, a newly elected Democratic majority has prompted more frequent legislative action. While Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has missed 71 votes this session, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) has been absent for a high of 196. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) falls closer to Swalwell with 132 votes missed, while Moulton has been absent for 71. 

“The 15th district of California remains Rep. Swalwell’s priority,” said a statement from the lawmaker’s office. “If a scheduling conflict requires the congressman to miss a vote, he is diligent about ensuring how he would have voted is on the record.”

Paul Kane contributed to this report.