Juan Williams: Senate records weigh down White House hopefuls

Juan Williams: Senate records weigh down White House hopefuls
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The top three Democratic contenders for the party’s presidential nomination, if you include Vice President BidenJoe BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE as a runner in that race, all have Senate voting records.

In a populist season when everyone wants to be seen as an outsider, those votes are millstones around their necks.


Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE’s record of support for Wall Street, while a senator representing New York, is reflected in Federal Election Commission filings that show the five top contributors to her political campaigns include Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, DLA Piper, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Pence-linked group launches 0K ad campaign in West Virginia praising Manchin Senators huddle on path forward for SALT deduction in spending bill MORE (I-Vt.) voted against the “Brady Bill,” which called for background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases. In fact, the National Rifle Association endorsed him when he first ran for Congress. He rewarded that support in 2005 when he voted for a law to protect gun makers from liability for mass murders.

Vice President Biden, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas’s controversial nomination to the Supreme Court. The Delaware senator was heavily criticized by liberal groups who said he was not sufficiently sensitive to charges of sexual harassment against now-Justice Thomas.

Biden also has a record of aggressively defending the credit card industry. His state was home to many of those businesses. An old put-down of Biden held that he was the “senator from MBNA,” the giant credit card company headquartered in Delaware.

Both Biden and Clinton long for an endorsement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has become a populist hero in large part because of her broadsides against Wall Street’s excesses.

But how does Warren form an alliance with either of them, given their voting record in support of the banks and the credit card companies?

In Clinton’s case, money from Wall Street has also filled the bank account of the Clinton Foundation.

Before President Obama was elected in 2008, there was a 40-year gap during which no senator advanced to the White House. The last senator to successfully make his way down Pennsylvania Avenue was President Richard Nixon — though his tenure representing California in the upper chamber had ended 16 years before.

The political tripwire keeping senators from success in presidential campaigns is their voting record, a sitting duck for criticism and political attack advertising.

One consequence is that the Senate now features elected officials who are less interested in compromise, difficult votes or the legislative accomplishment necessary for successfully governing the country.

President Obama was not in the Senate in 2002 when the nation was still reacting to the 9/11 terror attacks. But in 2008, long after the Bush administration’s decision to go to war had been undermined by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, candidate Obama, by then a senator representing Illinois, was able to put then-Sen. Clinton on the defensive for her vote to go to war. She now admits the vote was a mistake.

Clinton’s attempt to explain the vote back in 2008 failed to be heard in a 24-hour, social-media-driven news cycle devoid of historical context of the vote and analysis of the entire voting record.

Republicans launching campaigns from the Senate this year are having similar problems with voters who are placing a premium on candidates coming from outside the political establishment.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) helped to write a major immigration reform bill that won bipartisan support and passed the Senate in 2013. But that bill is now reviled by the far right. He has now flip-flopped and opposes his own bill.

The Tea Party right in the House refused to even vote on the Rubio-backed bill after deriding it as offering “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. On the campaign trail, it has prevented him from fully exploiting the anger at illegal immigration that has fueled Donald Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP field.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another member with a four-year record, does not have any legislative accomplishment as large as Rubio’s. But Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have made headlines with filibusters that appealed to Tea Party anger at Washington, frustrating the Republican leadership in Congress and playing on far-right antagonism toward any proposal from President Obama.

But they also now suffer from being labeled as Washington political insiders. Rubio and Paul voted in committee against U.S. missile strikes on Syria, and Cruz spoke out loudly in similar opposition. Now the country is in chaos, there is a migrant crisis and they have to justify their refusal to back military action.

Meanwhile, Republican candidates with no record in the Senate or Congress are capturing the zeitgeist, at least among conservatives. Businessman Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson and former businesswoman Carly Fiorina all regularly decry what Fiorina calls the “professional political class.” In the latest polls before last week’s debate, a majority of Republican primary voters supported either Trump or Carson.

At the 2004 Republican National Convention, Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), speaking in opposition to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a Purple-Heart-winning Vietnam War veteran, claimed that the Democrat’s Senate record disqualified him from holding the presidency.

“Twenty years of votes can tell you much more about a man than 20 weeks of campaign rhetoric. … How you vote tells people who you really are deep inside.”

But what does it mean for American politics when people with no record have an advantage over anyone who gets their hands dirty with actual votes?

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.