Mostly True
Cotton
Says Mark Pryor "votes with Obama 93 percent of the time."

Tom Cotton on Monday, October 13th, 2014 in a debate

Cotton: Pryor votes with Obama 93 percent of the time

Rep. Tom Cotton (second from left) says Sen. Mark Pryor (far right) votes with Obama 93 percent of the time at an Oct. 13 debate.

Tom Cotton says Mark Pryor votes in lockstep with President Barack Obama, but Pryor says he’s one of the most independent senators.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is challenging incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Pryor, in a tight race that could decide which party controls the Senate. Like many other Republicans facing against incumbent Democrats, Cotton often attacks Pryor for voting in line with Obama’s policies more often than not.

In the candidates’ first debate Oct. 13, Cotton said, "Sen. Pryor has said that President Obama doesn’t have a lot to offer rural America and states like Arkansas. I agree. I just don’t understand why he votes with him 93 percent of the time."

Cotton has made this claim and ones like it a lot throughout the campaign, while Pryor has touted a supposedly independent record. National Journal’s 2013 congressional vote rankings landed Pryor right in the middle of the Senate, at 53rd most-liberal and 47th most-conservative.

We decided to check out how often Pryor votes in line with Obama.

We reached out to Cotton’s campaign, and they didn’t get back to us. But these statistics typically come from CQ Roll Call, which tracks congressional data. Since 1953, when Dwight D. Eisenhower became president, CQ has calculated presidential support in congressional votes.

In its vote studies, CQ editors select "presidential support votes," based on clear statements the president or his spokespersons make on particular votes. Members’ presidential support scores reflect how often they vote in agreement with the president’s position.

Here’s Pryor’s presidential support rate since 2009, when Obama took office.

Year

Presidential support rate

2009

95 percent

2010

92 percent

2011

95 percent

2012

91 percent

2013

90 percent

Pryor's votes have lined up with Obama's stated position on that vote between 90 and 95 percent of the time for the past five years. Cotton’s figure -- 93 percent -- is right smack in the middle. (The average is 92.6 percent.) So it’s pretty accurate.

In 2013, Pryor supported the president the least among Senate Democrats, according to CQ. That year, Senate Democrats overall voted with Obama 96 percent of the time in 2013, which was the "highest level of support given to the commander in chief from either party in at least six decades," according to CQ.

It’s reasonable to assume that this measurement would also indicate how a member of Congress votes with their party -- given the partisan environment. But this is not strictly the case. Here’s Pryor’s voting record in terms of how often he voted with the Democratic Party since 2009.

Year

Party support rate

2009

91 percent

2010

85 percent

2011

85 percent

2012

85 percent

2013

80 percent

Although he has voted with Obama at least 90 percent of the time, Pryor has voted with the Democratic Party less often, particularly in the past year.

For contrast, Cotton -- who has only been in office as a representative for one year -- voted with Obama just 12 percent of the time in 2013. He voted with the Republican Party 97 percent of the time.

The CQ number is straight roll call votes, so it doesn’t count other ways a member of Congress might have acted against the president’s agenda, such as sponsoring legislation that never makes it to a vote.

Pryor’s campaign pointed to his 2013 co-sponsorship of legislation that would have preserved future Social Security benefits -- Obama called for changes in his budget request. Obama’s proposal was seen as an olive branch to Republicans hoping for austerity measures.

The campaign also noted that because CQ doesn’t weigh the votes, it might not reflect that Pryor voted against Obama on key legislation. They noted the Senate’s rejection of a gun control bill involving universal background checks, which Obama supported. Pryor was one of five Democrats to oppose the bill.

Our ruling

Cotton said Pryor "votes with Obama 93 percent of the time."

Since Obama became president, Pryor has voted in line with the president’s positions between 90 and 95 percent of the time, with 92.6 percent -- basically 93 percent -- as the average, according to the best rating system at our disposal. Pryor doesn’t vote with the Democratic Party quite as often, though, and in 2013 his presidential support votes were lower than every other Senate Democrat.

Cotton’s number is on target based on the data, but Pryor has also opposed Obama on a few key issues. We rate his claim Mostly True.