Sen. Clinton's ignorance of Congress, a history of 'present'

Sen. Chris Dodd's recent success in blocking legislation giving retroactive telecom immunity for warrantless surveillance was a real world example of how a detailed working knowledge of the legislative rules and procedures makes a leader more effective. It's not just officials who need to know the process, it's essential for citizens to be well informed as well for our system to work. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." I know I'm thankful for all the work the likes of Kagro X, Adam B, Christy Hardin Smith, Jeralyn Merritt, McJoan and Marcy Wheeler do on a regular basis educating people about the process.

Does Sen. Clinton promote understanding of our process when she says people who vote "present" are avoiding tough choices or is she just promoting ignorance of our system of government? No.

More on the flip...

The "present" vote isn't some weird feature of the Illinois State Senate. It's an everyday occurrence in the US Congress. The press doesn't have to track down obscure college professors to give quotes about "present" votes like "This is an option that does not exist in every state and reflects Illinois political culture." They could go back into the fog of history two weeks ago in the US Congress and ask Sen. Clinton's fellow congress members about how and why a "present" vote is used.

H. Res. 847: Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith
Ayes - 372, Nays - 9, Present - 10, Not voting - 40

Present    FL-20    Wasserman Schultz, Debbie [D]
Present    IL-9    Schakowsky, Janice [D]
Present    IN-6    Pence, Mike [R]
Present    KY-3    Yarmuth, John [D]
Present    MA-4    Frank, Barney [D]
Present    MI-14    Conyers, John [D]
Present    NJ-10    Payne, Donald [D]
Present    NJ-12    Holt, Rush [D]
Present    PA-13    Schwartz, Allyson [D]
Present    VT-0    Welch, Peter [D]

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a national campaign co-chair for Hillary Clinton. Does Sen. Clinton believe Rep. Wasserman-Schultz is voting "maybe" when she cast her vote? Was she avoiding the "hard choice" of being for or against Christmas? Maybe she wants to spend her time in her district more productively discussing health care and education instead of explaining to her Jewish constituents why, as a Jew, she voted for Christmas or to her Christian constituents why she voted against Christmas, or maybe she had constituional issues with HR 847 and didn't believe it appropriate for Congress to weigh in on the matter. There aren't just "hard choices" in the world Senator Clinton -- there are false choices. A vote of "present" can be a way for a legislator to voice dissent about false choices presented in legislation.  

Here's more of Sen. Clinton's distortion of what a "present" vote means:

"Now, there's been a lot of talk about yes or no answers to complex questions. But most people don't know that for legislators who don't want to take a stand, there's a third way to vote. Not yes, not no, but "present" - which is kind of like voting "maybe."

Here's Rep. Jane Harman explaining one of her "present" votes:

"As one committed to honoring the long tradition of careful bipartisan stewardship of the intelligence community by our Committee, the Chairman's actions are deeply disappointing to me. Careful, bipartisan oversight is what the men and women of the [Intelligence Community] IC deserve, and, sadly, they were let down today.

"Following the secret session, the Committee came back into open session to vote on HR499. My vote, Present, was intended as a protest against the partisan process imposed by the majority.

More examples of "present" votes from the US Senate:

United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., voted 'Present' today on sending President Bush's nomination for Secretary of Interior, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, to the full Senate for consideration. Sen. Landrieu, who was the only member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources not to vote in favor of moving the nomination forward, has made her support contingent on the Administration lifting its opposition to a revenue sharing plan for coastal energy producing states.

"I am voting present today because of the administration's continued inaction regarding a serious injustice to the hardworking people of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama," Sen. Landrieu said to the committee shortly before her vote. "In the days ahead, I will continue to work with my colleagues and the Administration to find a solution to this injustice."

"Present" votes can be used to avoid a conflict of interest:

White House chief of staff Alexander Haig worried that, if Nixon were impeached before Ford became vice president, Democrats might delay his confirmation in order to make Speaker Albert president. Haig therefore helped break the logjam by pressing Nixon to move on the appointment of a new special prosecutor and a new attorney general (since Elliot Richardson had resigned rather than fire Cox), as well as to guarantee some compliance on the matter of the tapes. On November 27 the Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Ford, and on December 6, the House agreed, 387 to 35 (with Ford voting "present").

"Present" votes can advance something on a legislative calendar without implying endorsement:


VOTE ON: Motion to report favorably the nomination of David G. Campbell to be US District Judge for the District of Arizona.
[Reported favorably by a vote of 11 yeas, 0 nays, 8 voting present]

Mr. Leahy - present
Mr. Kennedy - present

Mr. Biden - present by proxy
Mr. Kohl - present by proxy
Mr. Feingold - present by proxy
Mr. Schumer - present by proxy
Mr. Durbin - present by proxy
Mr. Edwards - present by proxy

Is Sen. Kennedy voting "maybe" when he votes "present" in this context? Does anybody seriously believe Sen. Clinton has a better grasp of the legislative process than Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Leahy and their eighty years of combined Senate experience? And what of Sen. Clinton's fellow Presidential candidates Sen. Biden and former Sen. Edwards? What is their view on "present" votes?

Another example of a "present" vote that I'm sure Sen. Clinton is personally aware relates to her husband and her first campaign for US Seante. In 1999, President Clinton gave clemency to 17 jailed members of the Puerto Rican group FALN who had not been involved with any terrorist violence and had served almost two decades in prison. In one of the few open disagreements on policy during the Clinton administration First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a candidate for US Senate in NY, called on her husband to withdraw the offer of clemency.

CNN: The FALN controversy took another political turn over last weekend when first lady Hillary Clinton called on her husband to withdraw the clemency offer, saying the failure of the 16 to immediately accept the conditions suggested they were not prepared to renounce violence.

President Clinton did not withdraw the offer of clemency and the 17 FALN members who renounced violence as terms of the offer were released. A resolution was then offered in the Gingrich-controlled GOP Congress to embarrass President Clinton:

HRES 180: Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that making concessions to terrorists is deplorable and that President Clinton should not have offered or granted clemency to the FALN terrorists.

The resolution passed 311-41 with 72 members voting "present"

At the time the AP quoted Rep. Harold Ford as saying, "I voted present because it would have been like rebuking the Constitution. . . This was obviously just an effort to embarrass the President."

Were 72 Democratic members saying "maybe" President Clinton was making concessions to terrorists? Then First Lady Hillary Clinton opposed granting clemency of the FALN members. How would she have voted? Would she have stood with Gingrich? She was already on the record opposing the clemency. Would she then vote not to condemn it? If you disagreed with the decision to grant clemency AND disagreed with the Gingrich-engineers smear of Bill Clinton the proper vote was "present".

From supporting Christmas, to saying President Bill Clinton made "concessions to terrorists", to voicing concern over constitutional issues, to highlighting concerns over the process, to simply advancing a bill or nomination through the sausage-making process of a legislature a "present" vote is a long standing part of achieving a more representive result. Far from being 'a maybe vote that avoids hard choices', voting "present" is a mature choice to that gets things done without taking the bait in every manufactured political debate.

A vote of "present" is a reasonable option in many circumstances and has a long history in the only legislative body Hillary Clinton has every served in. For Sen. Clinton to be out on the trail whipping up ignorance about what a "present" vote means is the opposite of leadership, the opposite of supporting a well-informed citizenry. Far from making the "hard choices" Sen. Clinton is out making the easy choice to obfuscate instead of educate, to cloud the workings of government instead of open the process to more people through understanding.

A "present" vote is an important governing tool in the US Congress. Sen. Clinton is either a clueless n00b when she says a "present" vote means "maybe" or she thinks her supporters Rep. Harman and Rep. Wasserman-Schultz are indicisive "maybe" voters along with her colleagues in the US Senate.

X-posted on Daily Kos

Tags: Hillary Clinton (all tags)

Comments

20 Comments

Re: Sen. Clinton's ignorance of Congress, a histor

Well, yes, present does mean maybe in each of your examples:

H. Res. 847 - Christianity and Christmas are obviously important in this country, but voting on it is stupid, so a "maybe" vote makes perfect sense.

HR499 - "maybe" she would support the committee chair if he were not using the issue as a cudgel.

Landrieu - "made her support contingent", i.e. "maybe" she would vote yes if Bush met her demands.

Maybe Ford would have voted yes absent the conflict of interest.

H Res. 180 - "Maybe" they would have voted yes if it weren't "just an effort to embarrass the President."

Your examples make Clinton's point, a vote "present" means "maybe". Either you've chosen bad examples or Clinton understands the legislative process much better than you do.

by souvarine 2007-12-21 07:40AM | 0 recs
Maybe pigs fly!!

n/t

by joejoejoe 2007-12-21 07:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Sen. Clinton's ignorance of Congress, a histor

There is one example I missed, Kennedy voting present on a procedural vote on David G. Campbell. I note that in the Senate Kennedy voted to confirm Campbell, so I assume this vote was simply an "I don't care" vote, rather than a "maybe" vote. No doubt a number of Obama's present votes in Illinois are "I don't care" votes, but at issue are the votes he should have cared about. Votes about choice, for example.

The rest of your examples are instances where the representative did care, but could only vote 'maybe' because the vote was conditional.

by souvarine 2007-12-21 08:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Sen. Clinton's ignorance of Congress, a histor

From the Chicago Sun-Times:
"On the abortion-related roll calls, Obama voted "present" not to duck taking a stand but to help provide political cover to lawmakers who did not hold a "safe" seat like he did, under an arrangement worked out with the registered lobbyist for the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, Pam Sutherland."

The IL choice community WANTED the "present" votes.

by joejoejoe 2007-12-21 08:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Sen. Clinton's ignorance of Congress, a histor

We are all aware of Obama's after the fact self-justification. No one expects him to admit "I was afraid a strong stand for choice would damage my run for Senate." And naturally his allies are defending him.

But the excuse doesn't cut it, voting "maybe" on choice demonstrates weakness on choice.

by souvarine 2007-12-21 10:20AM | 0 recs
You've cracked the conspiracy

Planned Parenthood is just an Obama-front group. You've got this one figured out...

by joejoejoe 2007-12-21 11:49AM | 0 recs
Re: You've cracked the conspiracy

Pam Sutherland, who has endorsed Obama and defended his present vote, is president and CEO of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council. She neither represents nor speaks for Planned Parenthood as a whole.

by souvarine 2007-12-21 03:38PM | 0 recs
More evidence of a cabal

Illinois Planned Parenthood working with the Illinois state legislators. Crazy!

by joejoejoe 2007-12-21 04:02PM | 0 recs
Clear that this issue a loser for Obama

by dpANDREWS 2007-12-21 07:52AM | 0 recs
It's not about "who's up! who's down!"

It's about who is right.

When Clinton supporters like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Jane Harman cast "present" votes, Sen. Clinton sees them as leaders within the party. Why wouldn't she take the word of Planned Parenthood in Illinois about Obama's votes unless she was just trying to smear him by pushing misunderstanding of a common legislative option - a vote of "present".

Open government is a good thing. Sen. Clinton is clouding the workings of government here for her own selfish purposes and I think it's wrong.

by joejoejoe 2007-12-21 08:33AM | 0 recs
Its about who wins and who loses

That is the way politics worked.

The the right person matter and the right person won we'd have Gore instead of Bush.

by dpANDREWS 2007-12-21 08:37AM | 0 recs
How?

How does this hurt him in a primary?

by BWasikIUgrad 2007-12-21 09:21AM | 0 recs
Re: How?

You are very naive!

by lonnette33 2007-12-21 09:25AM | 0 recs
Undermines his entire arguement

He says he is different.  It shows he isn't.  He is just another calculating pol.

He says he stands up and isn't afraid to take tough stances.  This shows that he is afraid, at least sometimes, to take tough stands on issues.

by dpANDREWS 2007-12-21 09:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Undermines his entire arguement

Did you even read the primary piece on this issue in the NYT and my diary? Obama's votes on "present" votes were part of a strategy designed by Planned Parenthood. Some of the other votes were a rejection of the process where either legislation was designed to embarrass polticians, was possibly unconstitutional, or was rushed in an less than open process.

And, yes, sometimes people vote "present" to cover their ass.

My point isn't that Obama is a saint (I'm not sure I even mention Obama in the diary). My point is that "present" voters are part and parcel of the legislative process and Sen. Clinton is either willfully ignorant of this fact or doesn't care about the process of legislation -- just scoring points with misinformation.

When Clinton supporters Anthony Weiner, Joe Crowley, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Jane Harman cast "present" votes they all have an explanation that is most definitely not "I voted maybe" like HRC is saying on the stump. I guess that kind of                                       hypocrisy is par for the course in politics but it don't make it right.

by joejoejoe 2007-12-21 09:51AM | 0 recs
Obama was present on porn

How hard it is to vote no to a porn shop near a school?

And Obama has been made out to be a saint by many and he has played to that image.

by dpANDREWS 2007-12-21 11:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Sen. Clinton's ignorance of Congress, a histor

Thank you for a clear-headed and substantive look at the reality of the legislative process.  It's a shame it relates so poorly to the reality of a presidential campaign.

by Ryan Anderson 2007-12-21 08:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Sen. Clinton's ignorance of Congress, a histor

Thank you for an excellent diary.  There is something very disturbing about trying to whip up emotions in this area for cheap political gain at the expense of an informed public and often at odds with defending the Constitution.  The present vote is often used against highly charged emotional issues that often run counter to our constitutional safeguards.  Obama's vote about sex shops near schools is a perfect example, where the Clinton people have been trying to use the same tactics Republicans use to pass such bills.  This is clearly a zoning issue which for good reason belongs in the control of City or County governments, not State.  

What is Hillary saying here?  Does she believe the State should decide how close is too close for every community in the State. Perhaps she thinks the Federal Government should dictate these types of issues and institute national zoning laws.  Or what is Pornographic and what is not.  I really fear the type of government her position implies.

by Piuma 2007-12-21 10:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Sen. Clinton's ignorance of Congress, a histor

Good work.  Thank you for clarifying this for me.  I only recently learned about the use of "secret holds" in the senate and it amazed me.  There is so much to know about the legislative process.

by Satya 2007-12-22 09:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Sen. Clinton's ignorance of Congress, a histor
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by hjhjh220 2008-04-04 12:18AM | 0 recs

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