House Speaker Thom Tillis and state and national Republican Party officials on Wednesday jumped on Sen. Kay Hagan’s remarks after Tuesday’s debate saying she had skipped a national security meeting to attend a fundraiser. She said it at a brief news conference after the debate, but her campaign has made no secret of it – acknowledging it to The N&O and others two weeks ago. She said she missed the meeting because it was rescheduled, and so she attended a planned fundraiser.
( Update: To clarify, Hagan’s campaign confirmed to The N&O that she missed a meeting to attend a fundraiser earlier this year. The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Hagan’s campaign said the hearing was Feb. 27, and was a closed Senate Armed Services Committee meeting on “current and future worldwide threats” to national security. Hagan had scheduled a cocktail reception at a New York apartment that evening, AP reports.)
Tillis is using her comment to add fuel to the fire he started by criticizing Hagan for missing half of the Senate Armed Services Committee meetings.
PolitiFact determined Hagan attended 23 of 50 open meetings in 2013 and 2014 but was unable to determine who attended closed meetings. Still, that gives her one of the worst attendance records for the 26-member committee, PolitiFact found.
A piece in Roll Call on Wednesday said, “Senators miss committee hearings and meetings. All the time.” They might only show up for a few minutes or when it’s their turn to speak, the article says. Hagan’s campaign contends she had other committee meeting responsibilities that conflicted with those meetings.
Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner responded Wednesday by email: “If Speaker Tillis actually takes national security seriously, then why won’t he talk about what he would do to eliminate ISIS?” She added that Hagan explained during the debate that she had been briefed by top officials and held numerous counterterrorism hearings as co-chair of an emerging threats subcommittee.
Democrats were quick to point out that Tillis had his own attendance issues over the past two years in the General Assembly, skipping sessions to raise campaign money.
Tillis held a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning to renew the attack on Hagan. He said that his missed meetings didn’t interfere with important business and that Hagan’s absences were about national security.
“This is about the importance of the meetings missed,” Tillis said. “If I was dealing with anything like the threat of ISIS, I would have canceled anything I was doing.”
Last year, Democrats complained that Tillis’ fundraising trips prolonged the session. At the time, Paul Shumaker, a spokesman for Tillis’ campaign, told a WRAL reporter that the pressure was no different from what Hagan faces in balancing her work in the Senate and her own fundraising.
“It’s a reality that any current officeholder might face,” he said.
This summer, while the state House and Senate were arguing over the state budget, teacher pay and coal ash, Tillis skipped at least part of several legislative days, and an entire session for a fundraiser and a business meeting, leading to grumbling from his own party.
“It’s obvious the speaker’s been traveling a lot, and we need his leadership,” Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Republican from Waxhaw, told the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill. “Do I think the process would have moved along more smoothly had he been here more? Absolutely.”