The rise of the terrorist group known variously as ISIS, ISIL or the Islamic State has increased the role of national security in the political conversation just a month before the midterm elections.
In North Carolina, state House speaker and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis released an ad that blames his Democratic opponent Sen. Kay Hagan for being missing in action as the ISIS threat grew.
"In January, President Obama refers to the Islamic State as a ‘JV team,’ " the narrator says. "Days later the Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on new global threats. Sen. Kay Hagan? Absent. In fact, Hagan’s missed half the Armed Services Committee hearings this year."
We’ve already checked whether Obama referred to the Islamic State as a JV team (he did). Here, we’ll review Tillis’ characterization of Hagan’s attendance record on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
We went through all the committee’s meeting transcripts for 2014 to see which lawmakers were in attendance for each hearing.
In compiling the information, we ran into an obstacle.
Because the Senate Armed Services Committee often reviews confidential national-security information, it sometimes meets behind closed doors. Minutes for those meetings are not released to the public. Therefore, we’re not able to determine attendance for those meetings.
In 2014, it appears there have been 11 closed hearings by the full committee. However, the committee has also held 22 open meetings this year, so we limited our calculations to those.
How many of the public meetings has Hagan attended? The record shows the answer is nine.
That’s not a great percentage — 41 percent — but is nine par for the course for a busy senator?
Not exactly. While Hagan didn’t have the worst attendance among the 26 members of the Armed Services Committee this year, she came close. Only five senators — Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; David Vitter, R-La.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Mark Udall, D-Colo. — attended fewer meetings.
Meanwhile, six of her colleagues attended at least 20 of the 22 meetings. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., as the chairman, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., as the ranking Republican, would be expected to have perfect or near-perfect attendance. But Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and John McCain, R-Ariz., were present for at least 20 hearings.
For the sake of argument, let’s go back a year and look at 2013.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held 28 open hearings in 2013, of which Hagan attended 14, putting her among those who attended hearings least often.
For those two years combined, then, Hagan was present for 23 of 50 open hearings. Only six senators have attended fewer open meetings. Republicans Vitter and Cruz attended the fewest hearings, 16, of any of the committee members.
Hagan’s campaign did not dispute those numbers, but staffers said they were taken out of context.
They pointed us to an article by the Charlotte Observer that quotes Tara Andringa, spokeswoman for Levin. According to the Observer, Andringa said, "Hagan appeared to have ‘one of the best attendance records on the committee.’ "
That didn’t mirror our findings, so we reached out to Andringa for clarification. We didn’t hear back.
Hagan’s campaign also explained that scheduling conflicts and other duties — including constituent issues, other committee hearings and bill drafting — kept her from attending all the committee meetings.
Let’s take a closer look at the February hearing "on new global threats" that Tillis highlighted in his ad.
Hagan’s campaign said she did not attend that hearing on Feb. 11 on "Current and Future World Threats" because she had a constituent meeting with Jerry Ensminger, a former Marine who had discovered that families living on the Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina were getting sick and, in some cases, dying from contaminated tap water used on the base from 1957 to 1987. (Congress passed legislation to assist the victims of this problem in 2012 and Ensminger and others continue to lobby Congress for further investigation.)
The Feb. 11 meeting, which included testimony from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, continued in a closed session on the afternoon of Feb. 27. It’s unclear whether Hagan attended the closed hearing (and they didn’t tell us). However, her campaign said she missed another Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in the morning of the same day to attend a banking committee meeting.
Tillis said that Hagan "has missed half of the (Senate Armed Services) Committee's hearings in 2014."
We don’t know the number of closed meetings she attended, so it’s more accurate to say that Hagan missed half of the committee’s public hearings.
Still, Tillis has a point — in 2014, Hagan attended nine of the 22 open hearings, which is not only below half but which also ranked near the bottom among committee members.
The comment is accurate but needs clarification or additional information, so we rate it Mostly True.
Update, Oct. 3, 2014, 11:00 a.m.: This version of the story reflects additional information about why Hagan was unable to attend the Feb. 11 Senate Armed Services Committee meeting and about her schedule on Feb. 27. The additional information does not affect the ruling, which remains Mostly True.