AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, whose whereabouts were unknown much of the last month, resurfaced Monday, saying he was on a 10-day official visit to Egypt, Israel and Russia and bristling at the notion he was ever missing.
The suburban Houston Republican and fierce conservative is challenging U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the powerful minority whip, in Texas' GOP primary on March 4. But he has made almost no campaign appearances in his home state and has stopped showing up for his day job — missing 17 straight votes in the House since Jan. 9, including one on the $1.1 trillion omnibus federal spending package he promised on Twitter to vote against.
In a statement released from Houston, Stockman provided excuses for at least some of those absences, saying he was part of an international delegation as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"Stockman and State Department officials met with and held press conferences with foreign leaders on matters of U.S. interests," the statement said, adding: "Stockman also used the official trip to expose the partisan bias of the American media, who claimed they did not know where he was."
Confirming Stockman's presence was the delegation's leader, U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. Ken Grubbs, a spokesman for the California Republican, said Monday that "Stockman was on the trip and participated actively throughout."
With his campaign and congressional staff repeatedly refusing to answer questions, Stockman's whereabouts became the source of increasing media scrutiny last week. The Associated Press and other news outlets reported that Stockman had been on an official, two-day visit to Egypt through Jan. 19 — but that where he was before or since wasn't clear.
Skipping votes in Congress is not uncommon for members who are home campaigning, but Stockman's situation was especially strange because he hasn't hit the campaign trail much.
Since suddenly withdrawing his bid for re-election to his House seat and filing to challenge Cornyn on Dec. 9, Stockman has made just one major public appearance in Texas. He chastised Cornyn as too liberal before about 50 tea party activists at a Dallas church on Jan. 14.
Dropping out of sight was strange even for Stockman, who has built a political career on shock value. Once a homeless college dropout, Stockman served one term in Congress beginning in 1995, then returned last year and has attracted attention with flamboyant rhetoric about impeaching President Barack Obama and promoting gun rights.
Stockman missed some House votes before the delegation left, but his statement provided no details on where else he might have been. It also made no mention of England, even though Stockman told the conservative news outlet Breitbart via text message Sunday that he was in London.
"We were with media and public officials every day and conducted press conferences," Stockman said in his Monday statement. "Reporters knew I was on an official State Department trip but refused to admit the truth because it would have spoiled their bizarre stories. We decided to hold out and see how long reporters would pretend they didn't know I was on official business."
Stockman, whose campaign has been dogged by questions about alleged campaign finance violations, has reported having only about $32,000 in cash on-hand and $163,000 in debts. Cornyn, who has been in office since 2002, said that through Spet. 30, he had nearly $7 million in the bank.