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Before he bowed out of the race, Sen. Joe Biden dismissed the legislative accomplishments of three Democratic primary rivals with whom he served. About John Edwards, he said, "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.
Edwards took a lead role enacting a law that authorized federal grants for local agencies and nonprofits to find missing adults. It was named "Kristen's Law" after Kristen Modafferi, a North Carolina State University student who disappeared in 1997, shortly after her 18th birthday.
He collaborated with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to enact a law to combat deceptive sweepstakes notices. And in his third year, Edwards was active in the 2001 debate over President Bush's bid to revamp federal education policy, which put an emphasis on annual testing and created consequences for schools with chronically low test scores. Edwards authored a provision in the final version of a landmark education bill that established "support teams" to help turn around failing schools.
In the wake of the Enron corporate governance scandal, Edwards wrote language in a law regulating the accounting industry that requires attorneys to report corporate wrongdoing to a company's officers or, if necessary, to its directors. And three days after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Edwards introduced legislation aimed at strengthening security at airports and seaports. Elements of the plan were eventually incorporated into aviation security and port security laws, including requirements for strengthened cockpit doors and the establishment of special port security units within the Coast Guard.
Edwards also took a prominent role in an important health care debate, joining with John McCain and Kennedy in 2001 to unveil a plan that would give patients more leverage over their managed-care health insurance plans. The plan, which promised new patient protections and liability caps for employers, passed the Senate 59-36 that summer but then stalled over the question of whether patients could sue their health plans. Congress' attention shifted to national security following the Sept. 11 attacks, and the measure was not revived.
"You can't hold it against him that his bills don't pass as they flow from his pen," former Rep. Bill Frenzel, R-Minn., a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said in assessing Edwards' record after he was tapped to be John Kerry's running mate in 2004. "Major bills come from committee chairmen and occasionally ranking members. . . . If a younger member has an idea, those ideas are often incorporated into a larger bill in committee."
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. He also drafted a 2001 Senate resolution honoring Dale Earnhardt after the NASCAR driver was killed in a crash. But because Edwards successfully injected himself into a number of significant debates and shaped their outcomes — often while serving in the minority party — we rule this Biden statement False.
CQ Weekly, "John Edwards: Contrast and Commonality," by John Cochran, July 23, 2004
American Academy of Pediatrics, "Pediatric Drugs and Devices," Advocacy paper urging renewal of the 2003 pediatric testing law, March 2007
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