IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

What Obama's Senate votes reveal

"If we could just come together across the boundaries” of political party and other categories, Barack Obama says, “there’s no problem we could not solve.” But the boundaries are defined by votes on specific issues: immigration, Iraq, taxes, judicial nominees, spending on Medicare, and others.
Obama Holds Campaign Rally In Dallas
Sen. Barack Obama speaks to his supporters during a rally Wednesday in Dallas. Texans are preparing to vote in the state's primary and caucuses on March 4. Rick Gershon / Getty Images

In Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign stump speeches, he rarely mentions any of the more than 1,100 votes that he's cast as a member of the United States Senate.

Votes on legislation have the virtue of being concrete and precise, showing a pattern of belief and conviction.

On most votes, Obama and his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, have lined up on the same side.

Obama has promised that as president that he would find a way to “stop fighting with Republicans and bring them over to our side.” He made that very pledge in Houston on Tuesday night.

“If we could just come together across the boundaries” of political party, race, and other categories, he said the very next day, “there’s no problem we could not solve.”

But those “boundaries” are defined by votes on specific issues: immigration, Iraq, taxes, judicial nominees, and Medicare.

A solid party loyalist
Obama’s roll call votes in 2005, 2006 and 2007 have been analyzed by the non-partisan journal Congressional Quarterly which found him to be a Democratic Party loyalist.

CQ didn't use every single roll call vote to make this determination, instead it analyzed votes where a majority of Democratic senators opposed a majority of Republican senators.

In 2007, Obama voted with his fellow Democrats 97 percent of the time. In 2006, his score was 96, and in 2005, he again netted a 97 percent rating.

Let’s explore some of the votes that resulted in those ratings, and others that Obama has cast.

The cliché heard during Senate battles over Supreme Court nominees is that there is no other vote, excluding the decision to go to war, that has more profound consequences.

There’s truth to this cliché.

Chief Justice John Roberts, 53, and Justice Samuel Alito, 57, both of whom Obama voted against, are likely to serve for another 25 years and Obama only for eight, if he’s elected to two terms as president.

But if elected, Obama may have the opportunity to appoint nominees to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, who will turn 89 this April, and probably other justices as well.

'No' on Roberts and Alito
Obama said in opposing Roberts, “far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak.”

Later, Obama criticized Roberts claim that he acted as an "umpire."

"But the issues that come before the court are not sports; they’re life and death," Obama argued. "We need somebody who’s got the empathy to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom."

In the Roberts vote, Obama found himself at odds with 22 Democrats who voted for the chief justice.

Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Max Baucus of Montana, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Ken Salazar of Colorado were among the Democrats casting their votes for Roberts.

The sole exception from a Midwestern battleground state was Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who voted to oppose Roberts. No Republican joined Obama in voting against Roberts.

In the battle over Alito, some Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass., half-heartedly tried to stall a vote on the nomination.

It was clear that Alito’s supporters would win the procedural vote — called a “motion to invoke cloture” in Senate language — and thus would prevent the delay on Alito’s confirmation.

Obama voted “no” anyway, joining 24 other Democrats. No Republicans voted with them. Most of the Democrats from battleground states voted for the motion.

For a filibuster
“He not only voted against Alito, but for a filibuster,” said Nan Aron, of the Alliance for Justice, an advocacy group that led the effort to defeat several Bush judicial nominees.

Although illegal immigration may have momentarily subsided as an issue in the national media spotlight, the problem is no closer to being resolved than it was in 2005 when Obama entered the Senate.

Obama voted against one measure in 2006 that would have denied citizenship or other legal status to illegal immigrants.

And he voted against another last year that would have allowed police to question individuals about their immigration status if the officers had probable cause to believe that the person was not lawfully present in the United States.

Obama joined all but four other Senate Democrats in voting for the 2006 Senate immigration bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., the likely GOP presidential nominee, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D- Mass.

The McCain-Kennedy bill would have created a guest worker program, and would also have allowed illegal immigrants in the United States since 2001 to become legal residents.

How to treat illegal immigrants
Last October, Obama, along with 37 Democrats, 12 Republicans and independents Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, voted to move to a final vote on the “Dream” Act (the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), which would allow illegal immigrants under age 30 to remain in the United States and gain legal status if they attend college or join the military.

The motion fell eight votes short of the 60 it needed for passage.

The bill would also have allowed illegal immigrants, if they passed background checks and became permanent legal residents, to qualify for lower in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.

“We should not punish undocumented children who were brought to this country illegally through no choice of their own by keeping them in the shadows,” Obama said, criticizing what he called “the politics of division and fear.”

By voting ‘yes,’ Obama put himself at odds with Democrats from states such as Montana, Missouri, Arkansas, and West Virginia, all of which could be pivotal states in the 2008 election.

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana — who is up for re-election this year and voted against the bill — said people in Montana were “very upset" by the bill. "They’re outraged; it’s like amnesty, it’s virtually the same.” 

Vote in support of abortion rights
On another contentious social issue, Obama’s voting record on abortion legislation gives every indication that as president he would support the Supreme Court’s decisions that have made the procedure legal in most cases.

Last August he voted against a proposal to codify a Bush administration policy that gives states the option of providing medical insurance to unborn children under the State Children's Health Insurance program.

He also voted “no” on a 2006 bill to prohibit the transportation of a minor girl across state lines to obtain an abortion, if this would circumvent parental consent or notification laws in her home state.

On this vote Obama found common ground with four Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. (Chafee, who was defeated for re-election by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006, recently endorsed Obama.)

Obama also agrees with Specter that the alleged terrorists being held by the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay ought to be given habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention.

Congress passed a law in 2006 to deny them such rights; that law is currently the subject of a case before the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by this summer.

Specter’s amendment to given habeas corpus rights to detainees fell four votes short last year.

On tax policy, Obama voted in 2006 against a bill that extends, through 2010, the cuts in capital gains and dividends tax rates enacted by Congress in 2003.

He complained that the bill would “give the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of all Americans a tax cut that is more than four thousand times larger than most middle-class Americans will get.”

He also voted “no” in 2006 on repeal of the tax on inherited wealth, the estate tax, which is scheduled to rise to 55 percent in 2011.

The other side of the fiscal coin is spending. Outlays on rapidly growing entitlement programs, such as Medicare, now account for 44 percent of all federal outlays.

Obama voted against a measure by Sen. John Ensign R-Nev., to require Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes over $160,000 to pay higher premiums for their prescription drugs in Medicare Part D.

If Obama is elected, Iraq and the future of the nation's military forces there will dominate his presidency.

In June of 2006 Obama voted against a measure offered by Feingold and Kerry that would have required President Bush to withdraw most United States troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007.

Most Democrats joined him in voting “no” as only 13 Democrats (and no Republicans) voted 13 for it.

But in September 20, 2007, Obama was one of 28 Democrats voting for a Feingold measure that ordered Bush to begin withdrawing most U.S. forces from Iraq within 90 days.

'Yes' on Iraq funding cutoff
The bill would have cut off funding for the Iraq deployment by June 30, 2008. Feingold’s measure would have allowed U.S. troops to stay in Iraq to “conduct targeted operations, limited in duration and scope, against members of al Qaeda” and other terrorist groups.

No Republican senators voted for the Feingold measure, while 18 Democrats, several of them from battleground states such as Missouri (Sen. Claire McCaskill), Virginia (Sen. Jim Webb), Florida (Sen. Bill Nelson) and Colorado (Salazar) voted against it.

Just two hours before that vote, Obama missed another Senate vote, this one to denounce a full-page New York Times ad run by the anti-war group mocking the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus as “General Betray Us.”

In that legislation, the Senate voted to “condemn any effort to attack the honor and integrity of General Petraeus” and “to specifically repudiate the unwarranted personal attack on General Petraeus by the liberal activist group”

The measure passed 72 to 25, with 22 Democrats voting for it and 25 Democrats opposing it.

And, again the battleground state Democrats such as McCaskill, Webb, and Salazar voted for the measure.