Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Examining their Senate records

SUMMARY: In the Democratic race for president, experience is a key battleground. Lately, the issue has been about how the top three candidates — Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama — fared as U.S. senators.

Like high schools and fraternal clubs, the Senate has its cherished pecking order. Before he dropped out of the presidential race on Jan. 3, 2008, six-term Delaware Sen. Joe Biden tried to make a virtue out of having spent more than half of his life in the chamber by dismissing the legislative accomplishments of those three Democratic primary rivals with whom he served.

We examined those records, which have now been brought back into question by Clinton, who has said more than once, "I'm asking people to compare and contrast our records."

Here's what we found when we reviewed the claims Biden made just weeks ago:

After a campaign event in Ames, Iowa, on Dec. 31, 2007, Biden said: "John doesn't have a record in the Senate. John's only passed four bills. They're all about post offices. I mean, literally . . . Most freshman senators don't get much done. Don't get much passed. Barack Obama hasn't passed any. There's not a major bill I know with Hillary's name on it."

A review of the records shows Biden was perhaps too eager to pick on the newbies, and used murky criteria as well.

Edwards had a respectable record of accomplishments during his single term in the chamber, though he never broke through with a signature idea that captured voters' attention. Obama assumed a high-profile role in congressional Demcorats' unsuccessful efforts to overhaul congressional ethics, but also worked with Republicans on some narrow measures that were signed into law. And Clinton deliberately immersed herself in unglamorous, parochial issues, understanding that protecting jobs and earmarking federal funds are a staple of political success.

So, while most of the measures won't stand out as landmark legislation, they nonetheless dealt with meaty aspects of regulatory, social and foreign policy. Here's a breakdown on the three claims:

"John doesn't have a record in the Senate. John's only passed four bills. They're all about post offices."

Edwards was similarly depicted as inexperienced by Democratic primary opponents and President Bush's re-election campaign during the 2004 presidential race. But as a freshman senator, he worked with senior Democrats like Edward M. Kennedy to see that his views on public school accountability, border security, bioterrorism and other issues were incorporated into bills moving toward enactment.

As for less significant legislation, Edwards, like many members of Congress, sponsored several bills authorizing the naming of post offices in his home state, as Biden correctly states. But because Edwards successfully injected himself into a number of significant debates and shaped their outcomes — often while his party was in the minority — we rule this Biden statement False.

"Barack Obama hasn't passed any."

Though advocacy groups generally gave him positive marks, Obama's absence from heated political battles makes it difficult to assess his effectiveness as a legislator. Still, he has passed one bill signed into law, making Biden's statement False.

"There's not a major bill I know with Hillary's name on it."

Clinton has effectively used her senatorial power to influence a handful of issues and to focus on local politics. Biden is correct when he says her name is not on a major bill, but as Biden knows better than most, that's not a fair measure of a legislator's accomplishments. We rule his statement Mostly True.