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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan July 21, 2008

The campaign trail leaves little time for hearings

An ad for Sen. John McCain makes the case that Sen. Barack Obama is a foreign policy lightweight who has voted against funding for troops.

"Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan," an announcer states. "He hasn't been to Iraq in years. He voted against funding our troops — positions that helped him win his nomination. Now Obama is changing to help himself become president. John McCain has always supported our troops and the surge that's working."

See our story for details about the ad's other claims. Here we'll look at the statement on hearings about Afghanistan.

The basis for McCain's attack here is that Obama serves on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairs the subcommittee on Europe. You might ask why the subcommittee on Europe should hold hearings on Afghanistan, which is in Central Asia. But we're familiar with this claim because Sen. Hillary Clinton made the same argument during a Democratic debate on Feb. 26, 2008.

Obama "chairs the Subcommittee on Europe," Clinton said during the debate. "It has jurisdiction over NATO. NATO is critical to our mission in Afghanistan. He's held not one substantive hearing to do oversight, to figure out what we can do to actually have a stronger presence with NATO in Afghanistan."

Obama responded then: "Well, first of all, I became chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven't had oversight hearings on Afghanistan."

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Back then, we talked to a spokesman for Sen. Richard Lugar, who served as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee from 2003 to 2006, when Republicans controlled the Senate. Lugar's spokesman said something as major as NATO's role in Afghanistan would typically be held before the full Foreign Relations Committee, rather than Obama's European subcommittee. See our full item here.

The committee is now chaired by Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, who has also said such hearings should happen before the full committee. And Sen. John Kerry has said that if it were to happen at the subcommittee level, it should go to his subcommittee on Near East and South and Central Asian Affairs.

About a month after the debate exchange between Clinton and Obama, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convened for an afternoon hearing with testimony on Iraq from Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, which Obama attended. That morning, though, Obama chaired a full committee hearing on nominations for ambassadors to Europe, including Kurt Volker to be the U.S. permanent representative on the Council of NATO. During the hearing, Obama talked in some depth about NATO and Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan, NATO's first major mission beyond the borders of Europe, has been overlooked and undermanned by many members of the alliance, including the United States," Obama said. "Success in Afghanistan, I believe, is critical to American national security and to the security of the entire world, and a failure there would not only endanger our nation and global stability, it would cast serious doubt on the ability of NATO's military and political architecture to uphold our security in the 21st century."

When Clinton laid out her argument for why Obama should have held hearings, we found that she had her facts straight and gave her a True rating. McCain's ad, though, doesn't make the detailed case that Clinton did as to why Obama should have held hearings on Afghanistan in the first place. And in the months since Clinton made her claim, Obama did chair a meeting of the Foreign Relations committee in which Afghanistan was discussed at some length (though it arguably was not the primary reason for the meeting; the ambassadorships were).

Taking all of this together, we find we have to lay out a number of explanations for McCain's statement on hearings, but in essence, he's right. Obama did not hold hearings that dealt directly with Afghanistan. We rate McCain's statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

John McCain campaign, Troop Funding ad , July 18, 2008, Dormant while Obama campaigns , Feb. 27, 2008

ABC News, McCain Shifts Position on More US Troops to Afghanistan , July 15, 2008

Federal News Service, Transcript of the Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, April 8, 2008, accessed via Lexis Nexis

U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearing chaired by Barack Obama , April 8, 2008

Associated Press, Clinton ad in Texas hits Obama on foreign policy, March 3, 2008, accessed via Lexis Nexis

New York Times, Democratic debate transcript, Cleveland, Feb. 26, 2008

Congressional Staff Directory, Subcommittee on European Affairs, from CQ Press, a division of Congressional Quarterly, "Obama's European problem," by Joe Conason, Dec. 29, 2007, "Obama vs. Clinton on Putting Legislative Machinery to Work," by Steven C. Clemons, Dec. 17, 2007

Times of London, 'Stay-at-home' Barack Obama comes under fire for a lack of foreign experience, by Tom Baldwin, Dec. 21, 2007

Interview with Andrew J. Fischer, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and a minority staff member with the Foreign Relations Committee, Feb. 27, 2008

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The campaign trail leaves little time for hearings

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