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Sharpening his attack line that electing Sen. John McCain is the equivalent of giving President Bush a third term, Sen. Barack Obama used his triumphant speech in St. Paul, Minn. June 3, 2008, in which he finally claimed the Democratic nomination, to note that his Republican rival voted with the commander-in-chief 95 percent of the time last year.
"It's not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush 95 percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year," Obama said.
The number Obama cited didn't come out of thin air. It reflects McCain's 2007 "presidential support" score from Congressional Quarterly, part of a carefully measured and widely cited series of vote studies that demonstrate how often lawmakers back or oppose the president, as well as the majority of their parties.
But while Obama may be accurately quoting the CQ analysis of 2007, he's selectively picking facts while not telling the entire story.
McCain's 95 percent score was the high-water mark of his presidential support during President Bush's tenure, and was partly a reflection of the new political calculus in the Democratic-controlled Congress. McCain supported Bush as infrequently as 77 percent of the time in 2005, and backed the president's position an average of 89 percent of the time since 2001. By congressional standards, that's solidly partisan, but hardly marching in lockstep.
The 2007 votes reflected the Senate agenda after Democrats gained a one-vote majority in the chamber in the 2006 mid-term elections. Bush stated a position on 97 roll call votes and won 64 of them — a 66 percent success rate. Deduct the 29 Senate votes to confirm Bush nominees to executive branch positions or judgeships, and the president's success rate fell to just over 51 percent.
But while he had a terrible year on paper, Bush was the winner on critical votes on spending limits, taxes and energy policy, thanks to unified support from Republicans. Because Senate rules require 60 votes to end prolonged debate or a filibuster, Republicans repeatedly used the stalling tactic to stop initiatives on the Democrats' agenda. The Senate voted 18 times last year on motions to cut off debate and end filibusters that Bush was on record as supporting. He prevailed 17 times.
McCain missed more than half the votes on which Bush had a position, as he campaigned for the White House. But repeated votes on immigration and the Iraq war — two issues on which he was closely allied with Bush — as well as the filibuster votes helped elevate McCain from one of the president's chief adversaries three years ago to one of his biggest supporters.
McCain's vote score can thus be viewed both as a reflection of ideological kinship with the Bush administration and with the hard-line, tactical decisions he made in response to some Democratic initiatives. Because Obama correctly quotes an accurate measure of how often McCain was in sync with the president in 2007, we rule the claim True.
CQ Weekly, "The Power of No: His Agenda Stymied, President Bush Used a Veto Pen and GOP Support to Frustrate Democrats," by Clea Benson, Jan. 14, 2008
CQ Weekly, "The Space Between Them," David Nather, Jan. 14, 2008
2006 CQ Almanac, 2006 Vote Studies
CQ Weekly, "2007 Vote Studies," Jan. 14, 2008
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