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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Leave of Absence

Representative Anthony Weiner has announced that he will seek a "leave of absence" from the House to undergo psychological treatment. What does the term mean? The House GOP Cloakroom explains:

If a Member is absent and misses votes for a substantial period of time, the Member or his staff may request a Leave of Absence from the House. Upon request, the Cloakroom staff will complete a Leave of Absence form which states the dates of the Member’s absence and the reason for his/her absence. The form is signed by the Republican Leader and laid before the House at the conclusion of legislative business for the day.

Decades ago, an absent Member was fined by the House. That is no longer the case. But a Leave of Absence is printed in the Congressional Record and announces the reason for one’s absence. Members may choose reasons that are general, such as “official business” or “illness,” or something more specific such as “having my appendix removed” or “inspecting damage in the district from Hurricane Katrina.” Members may not use political reasons for an absence. Members may choose not to request a Leave of Absence if he/she believes it would draw unnecessary attention to his/her absence.

Whether or not one chooses to request a Leave of Absence, a Member may wish to prepare a statement on how he/she would have voted on the votes that were missed. These statements, like any statement for the Congressional Record, must bear an original signature of the Member. If a statement is submitted to the Cloakroom within a few hours of the missed vote, it will be printed in the Record immediately following that vote. A typical statement would be:

Mr. Speaker, on Roll Call #____ on the ______ amendment on HR 12234, I am not recorded (because I was absent due to illness.) Had I been present, I would have voted (Aye/nay.)

Minority Leader Pelosi and other top Democrats have asked Weiner to resign, but they cannot force him to do so. A few months ago, House Speaker John Boehner "persuaded" a Republican to resign in the wake of a sex scandal, but the majority leadership has much more leverage than the minority leadership. By a two-thirds vote, the House may expel a member, but has done so only five times in its history.