Newsflash: Clinton, Obama embellish roles on legislation
I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked:
After weeks of arduous negotiations, on April 6, 2006, a bipartisan group of senators burst out of the “President’s Room,” just off the Senate chamber, with a deal on new immigration policy.
As the half-dozen senators — including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) — headed to announce their plan, they met Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who made a request common when Capitol Hill news conferences are in the offing: “Hey, guys, can I come along?” And when Obama went before the microphones, he was generous with his list of senators to congratulate — a list that included himself.
“I want to cite Lindsey Graham, Sam Brownback, Mel Martinez, Ken Salazar, myself, Dick Durbin, Joe Lieberman . . . who’ve actually had to wake up early to try to hammer this stuff out,” he said.
To Senate staff members, who had been arriving for 7 a.m. negotiating sessions for weeks, it was a galling moment. Those morning sessions had attracted just three to four senators a side, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) recalled, each deeply involved in the issue. Obama was not one of them. But in a presidential contest involving three sitting senators, embellishment of legislative records may be an inevitability, Specter said with a shrug.
Both Obama and Clinton have tried to make the most of it, and Clinton has attempted to bolster her Senate resume with her less-than-transparent track record as first lady. The release Wednesday of more than 11,000 pages of documents from Clinton’s years in the White House sent reporters and political opponents scrambling for evidence that might contradict her lofty assessment of her performance in those years.
The Obama campaign pounced on the documents, using them to argue that the senator from New York had understated her role in securing the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and overstated her roles in foreign policy decisions and passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act early in her husband’s administration.
With colleagues in Congress quick to claim credit where it is due, word moves quickly when undue credit is claimed.
“If it happens once or twice, you let it go,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), an Obama supporter. “If it becomes the mantra, then you go, ‘Wait a minute.’ ”
Immigration is a case in point for Obama, but not the only one. In 2007, after the first comprehensive immigration bill had died, the senators were back at it, and again, Obama was notably absent, staffers and senators said. At one meeting, three key negotiators recalled, he entered late and raised a number of questions about the bill’s employment verification system. Kennedy and Specter both rebuked him, saying that the issue had already been resolved and that he was coming late to the discussion. Kennedy dressed him down, according to witnesses, and Obama left shortly thereafter.
“Senator Obama came in late, brought up issues that had been hashed and rehashed,” Specter recalled. “He didn’t stay long.”
Oh to have been a fly on the wall on that one …
Just this week, as the financial markets were roiling in the wake of the Bear Stearns collapse, Obama made another claim that was greeted with disbelief in some corners of Capitol Hill. On March 13, Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, unveiled legislative proposals to allow the Federal Housing Administration to guarantee new loans from banks willing to help homeowners in or approaching foreclosure. Obama and Clinton were in Washington for a day-long round of budget voting, but neither appeared at the housing news conference.
Yet Obama on Monday appeared to seek top billing on Dodd’s proposal.
“At this moment, we must come together and act to address the housing crisis that set this downturn in motion and continues to eat away at the public’s confidence in the market,” Obama said. “We should pass the legislation I put forward with my colleague Chris Dodd to create meaningful incentives for lenders to buy or refinance existing mortgages so that Americans facing foreclosure can keep their homes.”
Dodd did say that Obama supported the bill, as does Clinton. But he could not offer pride of authorship to the candidate he wants to see in the White House next year.
“I’ve talked to him about it at some length,” Dodd said. “When Senator Obama was there for that full day of voting, we had long conversations about it. He had excellent questions and decided to support it.”
The article goes on to talk at length about embellishments in Hillary Clinton’s claims as well, on issues like SCHIP. Of course, we expect that from hear, but not from He Who Walks On Water. In all seriousness, though, doesn’t this all sound familiar to what happened when he was in the Illinois State Senate? To refresh:
When asked about his legislative record, Obama rattles off several bills he sponsored as an Illinois lawmaker.
He expanded children’s health insurance; made the state Earned Income Tax Credit refundable for low-income families; required public bodies to tape closed-door meetings to make government more transparent; and required police to videotape interrogations of homicide suspects.
And the list goes on.
It’s a lengthy record filled with core liberal issues. But what’s interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year.
Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama’s seven-year tenure. Each session, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere; bill after bill died in committee. During those six years, Obama, too, would have had difficulty naming any legislative Âachievements.
Then, in 2002, dissatisfaction with President Bush and Republicans on the national and local levels led to a Democratic sweep of nearly every lever of Illinois state government. For the first time in 26 years, Illinois Democrats controlled the governor’s office as well as both legislative chambers.
The white, race-baiting, hard-right Republican Illinois Senate Majority Leader James “Pate” Philip was replaced by Emil Jones Jr., a gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor.
Jones had served in the Illinois Legislature for three decades. He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama’s. He became Obama’s Âkingmaker.
Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.
“I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen,” State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of landmark racial profiling and videotaped confession legislation yanked away by Jones and given to Obama, complained to me at the time. “Barack didn’t have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit.
“I don’t consider it bill jacking,” Hendon told me. “But no one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book.”
During his seventh and final year in the state Senate, Obama’s stats soared. He sponsored a whopping 26 bills passed into law — including many he now cites in his presidential campaign when attacked as inexperienced.
It was a stunning achievement that started him on the path of national politics — and he couldn’t have done it without Jones.
One thing not mentioned in the WaPo article, probably because there is no legislation involved with it, is Obama’s claim to be committed to “refocusing” on Afghanistan. As noted previously in the liberal publication Salon, as well as admitted by the Senator himself in the Cleveland debate last month, as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs, which has jurisdiction over NATO, BO – whose chairmanship started in January 2007 – has failed to hold a single policy hearing on anything, including Afghanistan. So while technically no Congressional legislation is involved, he’s clearly embellishing his claim of a commitment to “refocusing” on Afghanistan.
He’s asking you to “believe” and have “faith” that if he is elected president, he will do then what he’s failed to do on the issue of Afghanistan since he was elected to the Senate, and since he was put in charge of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs.
That’s what “CHANGE” really means, I guess. Changing your priorities once you decide to run for the big office.