Sen. Chris Dodd's recent success in blocking legislation giving retroactive telecom immunity for warrantless surveillance was a real world example of how a detailed working knowledge of the legislative rules and procedures makes a leader more effective. It's not just officials who need to know the process, it's essential for citizens to be well informed as well for our system to work. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." I know I'm thankful for all the work the likes of Kagro X, Adam B, Christy Hardin Smith, Jeralyn Merritt, McJoan and Marcy Wheeler do on a regular basis educating people about the process.
Does Sen. Clinton promote understanding of our process when she says people who vote "present" are avoiding tough choices or is she just promoting ignorance of our system of government? No.
More on the flip...
The "present" vote isn't some weird feature of the Illinois State Senate. It's an everyday occurrence in the US Congress. The press doesn't have to track down obscure college professors to give quotes about "present" votes like "This is an option that does not exist in every state and reflects Illinois political culture." They could go back into the fog of history two weeks ago in the US Congress and ask Sen. Clinton's fellow congress members about how and why a "present" vote is used.
H. Res. 847: Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith
Ayes - 372, Nays - 9, Present - 10, Not voting - 40
Present FL-20 Wasserman Schultz, Debbie [D]
Present IL-9 Schakowsky, Janice [D]
Present IN-6 Pence, Mike [R]
Present KY-3 Yarmuth, John [D]
Present MA-4 Frank, Barney [D]
Present MI-14 Conyers, John [D]
Present NJ-10 Payne, Donald [D]
Present NJ-12 Holt, Rush [D]
Present PA-13 Schwartz, Allyson [D]
Present VT-0 Welch, Peter [D]
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a national campaign co-chair for Hillary Clinton. Does Sen. Clinton believe Rep. Wasserman-Schultz is voting "maybe" when she cast her vote? Was she avoiding the "hard choice" of being for or against Christmas? Maybe she wants to spend her time in her district more productively discussing health care and education instead of explaining to her Jewish constituents why, as a Jew, she voted for Christmas or to her Christian constituents why she voted against Christmas, or maybe she had constituional issues with HR 847 and didn't believe it appropriate for Congress to weigh in on the matter. There aren't just "hard choices" in the world Senator Clinton -- there are false choices. A vote of "present" can be a way for a legislator to voice dissent about false choices presented in legislation.
Here's more of Sen. Clinton's distortion of what a "present" vote means:
"Now, there’s been a lot of talk about yes or no answers to complex questions. But most people don’t know that for legislators who don’t want to take a stand, there’s a third way to vote. Not yes, not no, but "present" – which is kind of like voting "maybe."
Here's Rep. Jane Harman explaining one of her "present" votes:
"As one committed to honoring the long tradition of careful bipartisan stewardship of the intelligence community by our Committee, the Chairman’s actions are deeply disappointing to me. Careful, bipartisan oversight is what the men and women of the [Intelligence Community] IC deserve, and, sadly, they were let down today.
"Following the secret session, the Committee came back into open session to vote on HR499. My vote, Present, was intended as a protest against the partisan process imposed by the majority.
More examples of "present" votes from the US Senate:
United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., voted 'Present' today on sending President Bush's nomination for Secretary of Interior, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, to the full Senate for consideration. Sen. Landrieu, who was the only member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources not to vote in favor of moving the nomination forward, has made her support contingent on the Administration lifting its opposition to a revenue sharing plan for coastal energy producing states.
"I am voting present today because of the administration's continued inaction regarding a serious injustice to the hardworking people of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama," Sen. Landrieu said to the committee shortly before her vote. "In the days ahead, I will continue to work with my colleagues and the Administration to find a solution to this injustice."
"Present" votes can be used to avoid a conflict of interest:
White House chief of staff Alexander Haig worried that, if Nixon were impeached before Ford became vice president, Democrats might delay his confirmation in order to make Speaker Albert president. Haig therefore helped break the logjam by pressing Nixon to move on the appointment of a new special prosecutor and a new attorney general (since Elliot Richardson had resigned rather than fire Cox), as well as to guarantee some compliance on the matter of the tapes. On November 27 the Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Ford, and on December 6, the House agreed, 387 to 35 (with Ford voting "present").
"Present" votes can advance something on a legislative calendar without implying endorsement:
VOTE ON: Motion to report favorably the nomination of David G. Campbell to be US District Judge for the District of Arizona.
[Reported favorably by a vote of 11 yeas, 0 nays, 8 voting present]
Mr. Leahy - present
Mr. Kennedy - present
Mr. Biden - present by proxy
Mr. Kohl - present by proxy
Mr. Feingold - present by proxy
Mr. Schumer - present by proxy
Mr. Durbin - present by proxy
Mr. Edwards - present by proxy
Is Sen. Kennedy voting "maybe" when he votes "present" in this context? Does anybody seriously believe Sen. Clinton has a better grasp of the legislative process than Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Leahy and their eighty years of combined Senate experience? And what of Sen. Clinton's fellow Presidential candidates Sen. Biden and former Sen. Edwards? What is their view on "present" votes?
Another example of a "present" vote that I'm sure Sen. Clinton is personally aware relates to her husband and her first campaign for US Seante. In 1999, President Clinton gave clemency to 17 jailed members of the Puerto Rican group FALN who had not been involved with any terrorist violence and had served almost two decades in prison. In one of the few open disagreements on policy during the Clinton administration First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a candidate for US Senate in NY, called on her husband to withdraw the offer of clemency.
CNN: The FALN controversy took another political turn over last weekend when first lady Hillary Clinton called on her husband to withdraw the clemency offer, saying the failure of the 16 to immediately accept the conditions suggested they were not prepared to renounce violence.
President Clinton did not withdraw the offer of clemency and the 17 FALN members who renounced violence as terms of the offer were released. A resolution was then offered in the Gingrich-controlled GOP Congress to embarrass President Clinton:
HRES 180: Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that making concessions to terrorists is deplorable and that President Clinton should not have offered or granted clemency to the FALN terrorists.
The resolution passed 311-41 with 72 members voting "present"
At the time the AP quoted Rep. Harold Ford as saying, "I voted present because it would have been like rebuking the Constitution. . . This was obviously just an effort to embarrass the President."
Were 72 Democratic members saying "maybe" President Clinton was making concessions to terrorists? Then First Lady Hillary Clinton opposed granting clemency of the FALN members. How would she have voted? Would she have stood with Gingrich? She was already on the record opposing the clemency. Would she then vote not to condemn it? If you disagreed with the decision to grant clemency AND disagreed with the Gingrich-engineers smear of Bill Clinton the proper vote was "present".
From supporting Christmas, to saying President Bill Clinton made "concessions to terrorists", to voicing concern over constitutional issues, to highlighting concerns over the process, to simply advancing a bill or nomination through the sausage-making process of a legislature a "present" vote is a long standing part of achieving a more representive result. Far from being 'a maybe vote that avoids hard choices', voting "present" is a mature choice to that gets things done without taking the bait in every manufactured political debate.
A vote of "present" is a reasonable option in many circumstances and has a long history in the only legislative body Hillary Clinton has every served in. For Sen. Clinton to be out on the trail whipping up ignorance about what a "present" vote means is the opposite of leadership, the opposite of supporting a well-informed citizenry. Far from making the "hard choices" Sen. Clinton is out making the easy choice to obfuscate instead of educate, to cloud the workings of government instead of open the process to more people through understanding.
A "present" vote is an important governing tool in the US Congress. Sen. Clinton is either a clueless n00b when she says a "present" vote means "maybe" or she thinks her supporters Rep. Harman and Rep. Wasserman-Schultz are indicisive "maybe" voters along with her colleagues in the US Senate.