Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas is missing. He hasn't been seen in public since January 14. Reports that he traveled to Egypt couldn't be confirmed by another congressman on the trip — or by Stockman's own office, where the person who answered the phone simply said, "That's the first that I've heard of that."
It was probably the Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs who first realized that Stockman had vanished. On Tuesday, Jacobs pointed out that Stockman, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Jon Cornyn in Texas' Republican Senate primary, had been missing votes on Capitol Hill and campaign events back in Texas. Stockman hadn't shown up for a vote since January 9, Jacobs wrote, noting that Stockman didn't even vote against the budget bill he pledged to oppose. "Instead, he has made only sporadic public appearances, surfacing once in North Dallas on January 14 and then a few days later in Cairo." In the days since, multiple outlets have dug into Stockman's story, including, earlier on Thursday, the Associated Press.
The January 14 event that Jacobs mentions was an appearance at a Preston Hollow Tea Party meeting in North Dallas, which was documented by the Dallas News. A somewhat morose-looking Stockman is seen in two photos, hand over heart for the Pledge and looking past the camera with a frown in another. The News story mentions the last time he was seen: "After a brief Q&A with the audience, Stockman exited the auditorium to mingle. He left without taking questions from a reporter, ducking out of a doorway after spotting someone who turned out to be a Cornyn supporter filming him."
That was the last time he was seen, that is, until the Cairo trip Jacobs mentions. A story at Daily News Egypt states that Stockman was part of a delegation, including California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who met with senior Egyptian officials. There's a picture included with the article, showing Rohrabacher sitting with the Egyptian Defense Minister.
When I called Rohrbacher's D.C. office, however, no one there was able to confirm that Stockman joined the trip, even after a lengthy stint on hold. Usually, the communications staffer I spoke with said, the office doesn't discuss details of foreign travel until the congressman had returned to the United States. There is "still a trip on," I was told, which could explain why no one could confirm Stockman's presence: none of the people in Washington joined the delegation.
Calling Stockman's office in Washington resulted in a different response. I introduced myself as a reporter for The Wire and asked to speak with someone who could confirm that Stockman was on a trip to Egypt. "That's the first that I've heard of that," said the man who answered the phone, who would only identify himself as Dennis. Pressed for more information, he said, "I've given you my name, I don't understand why you're prying." Then, with a "God bless you," we ended the call.
Update, 8:30 p.m.: James Carter pointed me to the tweet below, from the Wall Street Journal's Tamer El-Ghobashy, showing Stockman (back right) in Cairo on January 19.
The congressional delegation from the US meeting with Adly Mansour, whom they called "very dignified" pic.twitter.com/OhZEI28ftp— Tamer El-Ghobashy (@TamerELG) January 19, 2014
What's particularly odd about the trip to Egypt discussion is that a staffer for the Stockman campaign told the Houston Chronicle's Patricia Kilday Hart on January 14 that "Stockman has not been able to make many public appearances because he has been 'already booked' on congressional business — including a trip to Egypt within the past week." According to the Egyptian news service, the delegation's two-day trip ended on January 20.
The Associated Press says Stockman was "spotted" on a visit to Egypt, though it's not clear by whom. Regardless, it is very possible that Stockman is still on the international trip with Rohrabacher, explaining his public absence. It is also possible that both the Stockman congressional office in D.C. and his Senate campaign are staffed poorly. (As the update above indicates, this seems like the most likely option.)
But it is also possible that something else is keeping the enigmatic Stockman out of the public light. It's impossible to talk about Stockman without mentioning his recent troubles: questions about his past employment, his campaign finances, and weird Senate endorsement list. It is equally impossible not to mention his past erratic behavior: a stint of homelessness some 30 years ago that, as Texas Monthly reported in his first successful congressional run in the mid-1990s, included living for a time in an outdoor park in Houston. Or, as the Houston Press detailed at the same time, Stockman's multiple arrests, including once for drug possession.
Reporting for a weekend stay in jail for a traffic violation, the future member of the House banking committee was strip-searched by -------ers, who discovered three Valiums hidden in a cellophane cigarette wrapper that was stowed in his underwear. Stockman told Whittle that his girlfriend had tucked the Valiums in his drawers to make his jail stay bearable. He was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance.
That charge was later reduced.
This is not a mystery that will go unsolved forever; eventually, and probably soon, there will be clarification. But as The Hill notes, to vanish without any attempt at explanation only weeks before a major election is "head-scratching." That finding an answer to where Stockman has gone is so hard is an entirely different level of weird.
Update, Friday: Stockman is playing along.
Where am I? Find out Monday...— Rep. Steve Stockman (@StockmanSenate) January 24, 2014