McCain: Iraq votes 'meaningless'
For someone building his presidential campaign around national security credentials, John McCain (R-Ariz.) sure has missed a bunch of votes regarding the Iraq war.
During the past six weeks, the Senate has cast seven votes dealing with how President Bush should proceed in the now four-year-old war. And McCain has missed five of them, bypassing what he calls "meaningless" procedural votes in favor of campaign stops in his pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination.
McCain is the only declared presidential candidate to miss any of the Senate's Iraq votes, according to Capitol Briefing's analysis of Senate votes. The other five senators running for the White House - Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Joe Biden (D-Del.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), and Barrack Obama (D-Ill.) -- have been on hand for all seven votes.
On Thursday, when the Senate cast three different votes - on a Democratic plan to reauthorize the war and set a timeline for withdrawal and two non-binding resolutions supporting the troops - McCain was in Ames, Iowa, cracking jokes about his newfound support for the Hawkeye State's home-grown ethanol.
As my Washington Post colleague Michael D. Shear reported from the town hall meeting, McCain dismissed the relevance of the votes. "In Congress as we speak, in the Senate, we will be debating another meaningless resolution, which will be, quote, sense of the Senate, or something that would be absolutely vetoed by the president of the United States. Setting dates for withdrawal -- you set a date for withdrawal,
you set a date for defeat because you tell the bad guys, hang on, we're
leaving on a certain date," McCain said.
[To read more of McCain's travails, check out Shear's prolific posts in On the Campaign Trail blog]
On Feb. 17, when McCain was also in Iowa stumping for votes in its caucus that was still 11 months away at the time, the Senate held a vote on whether to begin a debate on a non-binding resolution disapproving of Bush's surge plan in Iraq. McCain dismissed that vote, coming during a rare Saturday session, as a "purely political stunt."
Aides to McCain stress that his absence from the chamber during these votes has not affected their outcome. In addition, the votes he has missed have normally been so-called cloture votes to shut off debate and move on to the Democratic-written resolutions - and in those instances, his vote would have been "nay". (Parliamentary note to readers: At least 60 votes are needed for cloture.)
To be sure, other '08 candidates are missing votes, with Brownback topping the list at 27 missed votes so far this year, compared with McCain missing 22 and Biden and Dodd missing 19 and 15, respectively. But those votes have been mostly on issues not as central to the current political climate, such as judicial or executive nominations.
McCain's support of Bush's highly unpopular Iraq war policy is never in doubt. "Everyone recognizes McCain's commitment to defending the war on terror," said spokesman Matt David. "And he's been a leader when it comes to defending the troop surge."
Still, with a career steeped in foreign policy issues, it's surprising to some that McCain has been absent from the war debate. And liberals opposed to the war are pouncing on the issue of his missed votes, trying to inflict political damage on McCain.
"When his name was called [Thursday] to vote yes or no on whether or not the U.S. will have an open-ended war in Iraq or begin to bring our troops home, John McCain was absent without leave," said Jeremy Funk, spokesman for Americans United for Change.
March 16, 2007; 5:45 PM ET
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