2008 and counting: Watching Clinton, Obama ‘squirm’ on troop funding

When Senate Democrats decided to allow a vote on Sen. Judd Gregg’s (R-N.H.) Iraq resolution, which argues that Congress has a constitutional duty to fully fund troops during wartime, they worked hard to depict the measure as rubber-stamping President Bush.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) described Gregg’s language as “misleading and baseless” before the March 15 vote. Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedArmed Services leaders appoint strategy panel members Senators ask for Syria policy study in defense bill Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Pentagon No. 2 | Uncertain future for Iran deal | Trump to visit Pentagon Thursday | Key general opposes military space corps MORE (D-R.I.) said it “misinterprets the Constitution.”

Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurrayLawmakers send McCain well wishes after cancer diagnosis Trump labor board nominees advance in Senate Dems tout failure of GOP healthcare bill MORE (D-Wash.), who offered the majority’s alternative, suggested to colleagues: “If you are happy with the war in Iraq, go ahead and vote for the Gregg resolution.”

And the chamber’s two most-watched presidential rivals, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack ObamaBarack ObamaImmigration agents planning raids next week targeting teenage gang members Obama intel chief wonders if Trump is trying to make 'Russia great again' Sean Spicer’s most memorable moments as press secretary MORE (D-Ill.), did go ahead and vote for it, even as they court anti-war voters on the trail.

“It was interesting to watch them squirm during the vote,” Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) recalled with a grin this week. “They really didn’t want to vote for it. … We knew they’d have to vote for that. [They] can’t be perceived as not being able to provide funds [for troops].”

Democrats’ wariness of getting tarred as unsupportive of troops in the field is hardly limited to would-be White House residents, of course — only 16 senators turned against the Gregg resolution.

Yet every Iraq vote Clinton and Obama cast risks unwelcome scrutiny from anti-war voters gauging which candidate presents the most forceful case for withdrawal. In a further complication, two of their caucus-mates-turned-2008 foes, Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), were among Gregg’s 16 opponents.

“At the very least, [Clinton and Obama] will face questions” in the future over why they backed Gregg, said former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-Maine), now national director of the anti-escalation group Win Without War. “This is not the time for timidity and not the time to support meaningless political gestures that obscure the truth.”

Obama has warned that appropriating an end to the war presents pitfalls for lawmakers, and those familiar with his vote described it as keeping the Senate focused on a timetable for redeployment rather than the funding questions that have swamped the House debate.

Obama released a statement after the vote saying he was pleased that “Congress overwhelmingly affirmed its power of the purse as a means to pressure the Bush administration to begin redeploying our troops without endangering those that remain in the field.”

Clinton’s office did not return a request for comment on her vote. Gregg said this week that his language was not aimed at putting Democrats on the spot, but echoed Andrews’s prediction that Clinton’s and Obama’s votes could have a long shelf-life.

“There might be some inconsistency there, but that’s up to them to explain,” Gregg said.

Lott had his own forecast when asked whether anti-war voters would question the two Democrats. “If [Clinton and Obama] listen to them,” he said, “they’re going to be history anyway.”

— Elana Schor

GOP candidates divided on No Child Left Behind

Despite recent GOP legislation to alter the No Child Left Behind law, Republican presidential candidates mostly remain muted in their criticism of what has been heralded as one of the Bush administration’s flagship achievements. 

Though several of the lesser-known candidates openly advocated for the law’s expiration, the three frontrunners have remained at least cautiously supportive.

“Senator McCain generally supports No Child Left Behind,” said Matt David, spokesman for the John McCainJohn McCainSen. Flake's GOP challenger: McCain should resign The Hill's 12:30 Report Armed Services leaders appoint strategy panel members MORE (R-Ariz.) campaign, “but he thinks there should be a stronger emphasis on science and math.”

However, David indicated that McCain might withhold support in the future. 

“His support for reauthorization will depend on what amendments are made to the bill,” David said, “not only what’s added to it but also what could be taken away.”

Likewise, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) campaign declined to call for the law’s demise.

“Governor Romney supports the goals of No Child Left Behind, but he would like to see some changes in terms of giving states that meet or are exceeding the testing requirements some additional flexibilities in how you measure student performance,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden. 

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s (R) campaign refused to comment specifically on No Child Left Behind.
Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella instead pointed to Giuliani’s recent comments regarding education, which indicated that he supports efforts to lessen federal regulation of schools.

However, other Republican candidates have been more outspoken in their criticism of No Child Left Behind.

Spokepeople for Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) noted their bosses voted against the 2001 law, which expires this year unless renewed by Congress.

The other presidential campaigns did not return calls seeking comment.

— Heidi Bruggink

Clinton scores big Granite State get

New Hampshire Democratic heavyweight Bill Shaheen, husband of former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Trump gets briefing at Pentagon on ISIS, Afghanistan | Senate panel approves five defense picks | Senators want Syria study in defense bill Gore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere Senators ask for Syria policy study in defense bill MORE, endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) presidential campaign this week.

“My campaign in New Hampshire is in exactly the right hands,” Clinton said in a statement. “Bill Shaheen brings so much with him and I am absolutely thrilled to have his guidance and leadership.”

Shaheen has served as New Hampshire co-chairman for former President Jimmy Carter and chairman for former Vice President Al GoreAl GoreOvernight Energy: Exxon sues feds over M fine | Deputy Interior pick advances | Oil concerns hold up Russia sanctions push Gore: Progressive ideas 'gaining ground' among Democrats Gore: Trump prompting 'biggest upsurge' of climate activism ever MORE and Sen. John KerryJohn KerrySenators who have felt McCain's wrath talk of their respect for him Dems see huge field emerging to take on Trump Budowsky: Dems need council of war MORE (D-Mass.).

— Sam Youngman

RNC: ‘Beware the Pander Bear’

Following in the fin-steps of Flipper the Dolphin, the mascot that harassed Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) almost everywhere he campaigned in 2004, the Republican National Committee (RNC) introduced the Pander Bear this week.

Making its debut at a fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) (next to the National Zoo, no less), the Pander Bear, a person in a large panda suit, can be fitted with everything from a New York Yankees cap to an “I love ethanol” t-shirt, RNC spokesman Dan Ronayne said.

Ronayne added that the committee estimated in 2004 that when a presidential candidate travels to various towns, he or she generally garners about two minutes on local television. If a photogenic mascot can steal just 12 to 15 seconds of that time, Ronayne said, then “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

— Sam Youngman