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The Truth on Troop Support?

A McCain TV ad says Obama "voted against funding our troops." He did, once. Every other time he voted in favor.


Summary

The McCain campaign is running a TV ad attacking Obama with statements that are literally true but paint an incomplete picture.

It says he "voted against funding our troops." He did – exactly once. Obama cast at least 10 votes for war-funding bills before voting against one last year, after Bush vetoed a version that contained a date for withdrawal from Iraq.

It says he "hasn’t been to Iraq for years." He was headed there at the time the ad was released, however, and had been there in 2006.

It says he "never held a single hearing on Afghanistan." It was the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee, not Obama’s subcommittee, that had the hearings on this global hot spot, and Obama attended one of those. Over the same time period, McCain himself attended none of the Afghanistan hearings held by the Armed Services Committee on which he serves.

Analysis

Sen. John McCain’s campaign released the 30-second TV spot "Troop Funding" July 18 and said it would run on national cable television and in unspecified "key states."

[TET ]

McCain 2008 Ad: "Troop Funding"

Announcer: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan. 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. McCain. Country first.

McCain: I’m John McCain and I approve this message.[/TET]

"Against Funding Our Troops"

The claim that Obama "voted against funding our troops" is true. He did, once, last year. But that’s hardly the whole story.

Prior to the sole 2007 vote cited by the McCain campaign as justification for this ad, Obama voted for all war-funding bills that had come before the Senate since 2005, when he was sworn in. So did all other Senate Democrats, except for a few absences. As recently as April 2007, Obama voted in favor of funding U.S. troops again, but this time Democrats added a non-binding call to withdraw them from Iraq. McCain (who was absent for the vote) urged the president to veto that funding measure, because of the withdrawal language. President Bush did veto it, and McCain applauded Bush’s veto. Based on those facts, it would be literally true to say that "McCain urged a veto of funding for our troops." But that would be oversimplified to the point of being seriously misleading, which is exactly the problem with McCain’s ad.

Furthermore, by saying that "John McCain has always supported our troops," the ad insinuates that Obama doesn’t. But funding a war and supporting troops are not necessarily the same thing. If they were, we’d reiterate our point above, that both men expressed a willingness to see a war-funding bill killed unless it met their conditions.

For the record, here are Obama’s votes in favor of war funding bills. We count 10 votes on five separate measures.

Obama’s Votes for Troop Funding

Within four months of being sworn in as a U.S. senator, Obama – in lock-step with fellow Senate Democrats – began a string of votes in favor of war-funding bills.

2005: Obama voted for Senate passage (Vote 109, April 21) of an emergency supplemental appropriations bill, which passed 99 to 0. He also voted for the final House-Senate compromise version of the same legislation (Vote 117, May 10), which passed 100 to 0.

Later that year additional war funds were contained in the regular Pentagon appropriations bill. Obama voted for the Senate version (Vote 254, Oct. 7), which passed 97 to 0 and also for the final compromise (Vote 366, Dec. 21), which passed 93 to 0.

2006: Obama supported another emergency supplemental appropriations bill, which included war funding and much else, voting for a cloture motion to end debate and schedule a vote (Vote 103, May 2). The measure passed 92 to 4, with four Democrats opposed for reasons other than war funding. He then voted for Senate passage (Vote 112, May 4). The bill was approved by a vote of 77 to 21, with only Republican opposed, and finally, Obama voted for the final House-Senate compromise version (Vote 117, June 15), which passed 98 to 1, with a single Republican voting against it.

Later in 2006, Obama supported the regular Pentagon appropriations bill, which included $50 billion in "contingency funding" intended for the first six months of war funding. He voted for Senate passage of that bill (Vote 239, Sept. 7), which passed 98 to 0, and also for the House-Senate compromise version (Vote 261, Sept. 29) which passed 100 to 0.

2007: Obama’s final vote for troop funding (Vote 147, April 26) was for an emergency supplemental appropriation that also included a call for withdrawal from Iraq. Obama issued a news release at the time, saying: "We must fund our troops. But we owe them something more. … With my vote today, I am saying to the President that enough is enough." The measure passed 51 to 46 and was vetoed.

As for the other part of the sentence in the ad, which says McCain has always supported "the surge that’s working," we won’t get into deciding whether the surge is a success or not. But it is true that McCain has supported it from the beginning. Again, by implication, the ad tells us that Obama did not. That’s a clean hit – he didn’t.

But the ad is false in implying Obama is "changing" his view of the surge "to help himself become president." Obama recently has expressed support for the troops involved in the surge, saying, for instance, at a February presidential debate, that "it is indisputable that we’ve seen violence reduced in Iraq. And that’s a credit to our brave men and women in uniform." He said something similar to ABC’s "Nightline" this week, though he added that the decrease in violence wasn’t entirely due to the surge. That’s not a change of position, however. As Obama told "Nightline," he still would have opposed the surge from the beginning.

The McCain ad contains other literal truths that also fall short of giving a complete picture.

Afghanistan Hearings

The ad starts by saying Obama "never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan," which is literally true. Obama, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on European Affairs, hasn’t held any Afghanistan hearings. The full Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, has held three hearings on Afghanistan during the past two years, and Obama attended one of them.

McCain’s ad fails to mention that his own record is no better. Although he’s the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, he missed all seven of the hearings that his panel held on Afghanistan during the same two years, according to ABCNews.com. (We looked through the transcripts of the hearings from Federal News Service to confirm ABC’s report, and we found statements that showed McCain was not present at two of the hearings, statements from other senators speaking on McCain’s behalf at two more hearings, and no mention of McCain whatsoever at the other three.)

It’s a sad reality that candidates running for president in our political system generally have to neglect their day jobs to a huge degree, and that’s no less true of McCain than it is of Obama. For example, McCain was absent from the Senate on the day Obama was voting for the war-funding bill that contained exit language that McCain opposed. McCain was in South Carolina on day two of a four-day presidential campaign "announcement tour" that also took him to New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and home to Arizona.

Hasn’t Been to Iraq "In Years"

Also literally true, though just barely, is the ad’s statement that Obama "hasn’t been to Iraq in years." Obama was, of course, heading to Iraq on the weekend when this ad first ran on TV stations. And he had also been to Iraq in January 2006 as part of a delegation of Midwestern lawmakers. That’s two-and-a-half years between trips, though the ad’s wording makes it sound like much more.

–by Brooks Jackson

Sources

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Office of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama. “Obama Votes to Demand Changed Course in Iraq.” news release, 24 May 2007.

Office of U.S. Sen. John McCain. “Senator McCain Statement on Presidential Veto of Iraq Spending Legislation.” news release, 1 May 2007.

Presidential Campaign of Sen. John McCain. “John McCain 2008 Launches New TV Ad: ‘Troop Funding.” news release, 18 July 2008.

Daragahi, Borzou. “Senators to Iraq: Time to shape up.” Los Angeles Times, 8 Jan. 2008.

CNN. “Bush vetoes war-funding bill with withdrawal timetable.” cnn.com, 2 May 2007.

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109th Congress, U.S. Senate, 2nd Session, Roll Call Vote No. 117.

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