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Brooklyn — Democratic U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy arrived in Washington together as freshmen in January 2007. Both men won their seats the previous fall in tough battles against entrenched Republican incumbents.
Now, nearly six years later, Murphy's opponent in his bid for higher office in the U.S. Senate — Republican Linda McMahon — is comparing the congressmen's attendance records and arguing that Courtney's constituents in the 2nd Congressional District have been better served than Murphy's in the 5th District.
McMahon's campaign announced Wednesday that, based on publicly available records, Courtney has attended about 60 percent of all his committee meetings. Murphy made just 26 percent of his meetings, according to McMahon's count.
"Chris Murphy should learn this one simple lesson from Joe Courtney: when you get paid $170,000 from the people of Connecticut you should actually show up for work," McMahon's campaign manager, Corry Bliss, said in a news release.
In Brooklyn Wednesday, during the congressman's visit to a senior center, Courtney, 59, questioned the thoroughness of the attendance numbers McMahon is using and defended Murphy, his friend and close colleague, against the former WWE executive's charges of "extreme truancy."
(Murphy was in Washington for a hearing concerning last month's terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya.)
Murphy claims a 97 percent vote attendance record.
"My take is that votes are what matters," Courtney said. "Markups are what matter, and Chris' record is solid in both of those areas."
A markup is the process of debate, amendment adding and rewriting for legislative proposals.
Murphy, 39, has not disputed the accuracy of McMahon's assertion that he missed 74 percent of all his committee meetings since his swearing-in. He told reporters last week: "Any time that I have a choice between listening to politicians and lobbyists testify in Washington versus listening to my constituents back home, I listen to my constituents."
In Murphy's defense, Courtney said, men and women in Congress face numerous demands on their time and have calendars crammed with meeting dates.
On many occasions, Courtney said, a representative's committee and subcommittee meetings will involve matters that aren't directly relevant to his home district, "hearings that are talking about what may be some fairly arcane question in some other part of the country."
Other times, when meetings overlap, it can be physically impossible to attend, he added. And some subcommittees do not take regular attendance.
Courtney, like Murphy, speaks with pride about returning home to Connecticut most weekends to spend time in his district and with family. But unlike Murphy, Courtney has a home away from home in Washington; he shares a townhouse in the city with two other Democratic congressmen.
Murphy doesn't have a place in Washington, so he sleeps in his office in the Canon House Office Building, according to his campaign.
"It's not uncommon," Murphy's campaign spokesman, Eli Zupnick, said Wednesday. "Lots of members are doing it these days."
Courtney also pushed back against claims by McMahon and Republican Rob Simmons of Stonington, the previous 2nd District representative, that Murphy's election to the Senate would be bad news for submarine production and Electric Boat.
Murphy's critics point to his two "no" votes this year on major defense spending bills that contained funding to build two submarines per year at EB. He was in fact the sole member of Connecticut's five-person congressional delegation to oppose the second bill, a $604 billion defense appropriations measure containing $4.8 billion for the Virginia-class attack submarines made in Groton.
Courtney voted "yes" on both bills, which passed the House and still await action in the Senate.
Murphy said he opposed the bills because they contained an open-ended time frame for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. He would like those troops home "as soon as is safely possible." President Obama's timetable calls for nearly all U.S. troops to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
"I opposed the defense authorization act because it spends $2 billion a week in Afghanistan," Murphy told The Day last week. "Every week that we stay engaged in Afghanistan is another week that we are shortchanging our taxpayers and shortchanging the programs we need to fund here."
Courtney also supports a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan. He joined Murphy and Connecticut's other House representatives — John Larson, Rosa DeLauro and Jim Himes — in voting for an amendment to the July defense bill that would have quickly reduced troop levels for an estimated savings of nearly $13 billion. The amendment failed 137 to 278.
But Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District representative has a special relationship to submarines. After all, Courtney's nickname in Washington is "Two Subs Joe."
So he voted for the defense bills with the money to build submarines.
"You're making a judgment call," Courtney said. "The pluses outweighed the minuses."