Updated 9:20 p.m. | Two of the most vulnerable Republican senators, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, switched their votes Thursday on an amendment that would allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick time annually.
A "no" vote on the amendment would have likely drawn criticism from Democrats, who have, in the past, attacked Republicans as being unconcerned about pocketbook issues such as paid leave, minimum wage and equal pay.
Both senators' offices blamed the switch on an innocent mistake.
"Sen. Johnson realized he cast the wrong vote – there are a lot of votes happening right now, simple mistake," Melinda Schnell, a Johnson spokeswoman, said in an email.
"Sen. Toomey misread the amendment at first," Toomey spokeswoman E.R. Anderson explained in an email to CQ Roll Call. "He wanted to be recorded as supporting the Murray amendment because it is consistent with the Working Families Flexibility Act which Sen. Toomey co-sponsored and would allow tens of millions of workers to earn up to 4 weeks of additional paid leave."
Toomey and Johnson are up for re-election in 2016 in decidedly purple states that tend to vote more Democratic in presidential years.
The amendment to the budget, during the vote-a-rama on the Senate floor, proposed establishing a deficit-neutral reserve fund for legislation to allow workers to earn paid sick time. It is similar to the Healthy Families Act introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
The amendment comes after President Barack Obama unveiled a proposal calling on Congress to provide up to seven paid sick days for American workers, and three states and 17 cities, including Philadelphia and Washington, D.C ., have passed laws which guarantee the rights of workers to earn paid sick days.
Johnson is expected to face former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, whom he ousted in 2010. The race is rated a Tossup by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call. Toomey also will likely have a 2010 rematch: He is expected to face former Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, in a race that is rated Tilts Republican .
Other senators facing potentially tough re-elections voted in favor of the bill. Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., were all "aye" votes.
Presidential hopefuls, on the other hand, all voted "no." Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voted against the amendment. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who would face a highly competitive senate race if he ran for re-election instead of seeking the presidency, also voted "no."
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