Cardin, Sarbanes get high marks for Obama support; Mikulski's attendance slips

Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. John Sarbanes were among the strongest supporters in Congress of President Barack Obama's legislative agenda in 2009, according to a new study.

The annual report of presidential support scores by Congressional Quarterly magazine ranked Cardin as Obama's fifth biggest Senate backer, tied with five other senators. Cardin, a first-term Democrat, supported Obama's initiatives 98.7 per cent of the time.


Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was close behind. She agreed with Obama 98.6 percent of the time, making her the president's 11th strongest Senate supporter.

Among House members, Rep. John Sarbanes sided with Obama a reliable 98.6 percent of the time. That tied him with seven other Democrats for second place out of the 435 members of the House.

All of those scores, while pushing 100 percent, weren't far off from the overall average, which allowed the Democratic president to set a new record during his first year in office.

Obama won the backing of Congress on 96.7 percent of votes for which he had articulated a clear position, a historic high, according to CQ, which has been compiling presidential support scorecards since 1953.

The previous record-holder was Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, who got his way 93.1 percent of the time 44 years ago.

At the other end of the spectrum, freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, who represents a Republican district on the Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, had the fifth highest opposition score among House Democrats.

The Blue Dog from Queen Anne's County was on the other side of the president's position a total of 31.9 percent of the time last year. A related CQ scorecard--which measures party unity--also gave Cardin high marks. The magazine ranks senators and representatives who vote most often with a majority of their party against a majority of the opposing party.

On the party support score, Cardin tied for sixth place last year, with a 99.3 percent party-unity grade. That put him in a tie with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Kratovil, on the other hand, opposed fellow House Democrats 32.3 percent of the time, CQ found.

The state's lone Republican in Congress, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick, opposed his own party 10 percent of the time, precisely in line with the average for all House Republicans. Bartlett voted for Obama's agenda 18 percent of the time, which was less supportive than the 26 percent average for all House Republicans.

Four Marylanders in the House got 99 percent party unity grades: Sarbanes and Reps, Donna Edwards, Chris Van Hollen and Steny Hoyer, all Democrats. Hoyer and Van Hollen are, of course, members of the House Democratic leadership.

Finally, Cardin got a gold star for attendance, joining 14 other senators who got perfect 100 percent marks by participating in all 397 roll call votes. The overall average for members of the Senate was 97.0 percent.

Mikulksi, meantime, ranked third from the bottom among current senators, with an 89 percent attendance score. The 74-year-old senator was hospitalized for a broken ankle suffered in late July and spent weeks in rehab.

Look for Republicans to highlight her attendance mark as a way of building a case that it's time for Maryland voters to make a change this year. Attendance records are a time-honored--and sometimes quite effective--campaign issue for challengers attempting to unseat longtime incumbents. That is the main reason that many members of Congress go overboard to make sure they participate in roll call votes, including the most insignificant ones.


Among the eight members of the House from Maryland, only one had a below-average attendance record below the average for the chamber.

Democratic Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger of Baltimore County participated in 95 percent of the 987 roll call votes in the House during 2009. The average attendance record for all House members was 96 percent.

When it comes to showing up for votes, Marylanders in Congress have an important built-in advantage over most of their colleagues: their districts and their homes are all within a reasonable drive of the Capitol. Many, if not most, congressmen and senators from other states have to hop a plane to travel back and forth from Washington.

CQ based its rankings on a variety of key votes. The presidential position scores, for example, were generated on the basis of 79 Senate and 72 House roll call votes.