Obama’s Hearing Problem

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In December, I did some research into how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton each used legislative machinery at their disposal in the Senate to get some sense of their “executive abilities”. For some reason, I expected Hillary Clinton to be too busy for things like subcommittee hearings and Obama to be drilling in and learning as much as he could because his experience in federal level legislative affairs might be perceived as weak.
I found the opposite — and discovered that Barack Obama, despite his role as Chairman of the European Subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had not held a single policy hearing during his tenure. In the Environment and Public Works Committee Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health, I found that Clinton had chaired and been actively engaged in a number of hearings during the same period.
When I discovered this, a number of Obama’s own foreign policy advisers called me — and one said, “I am as surprised as you are.”
What is important to understand here is not that Obama is somehow weak on policy or performance because he didn’t hold any hearings. It raises questions about how he deploys people in an array of different directions simultaneously. As a U.S. Senator, Obama has a huge staff — and some compensated in part to support his committee responsibilities. He should have held any number of Hearings — but these should have been organized for him by his staff.
This matter finally came up in the debates — see below — and I have to say that I was disappointed in Obama’s response that he has been too busy to hold hearings because he was running for the presidency. I think that the best thing he can do now is to make sure that during the next months, his Senate staff organizes some hearings for the Subcommittee on NATO and Afghanistan, Kosovo, or any number of other subjects.
He needs to take this criticism and turn it around so that as he moves through the primary process, he modifies his management focus to make sure that his “substantive work” — being paid for by taxpayers in his role in the Senate — is getting the same attention as his ambition to move into the White House.

— Steve Clemons

Comments

36 comments on “Obama’s Hearing Problem

  1. taters says:

    Great piece, Steve.
    How many cases has Sen. Obama tried as a lawyer?
    It wasn’t that long ago when Sen. Obama referenced a junior officer of the 10th Mountain who stated his platoon lacked ammo and equipment in Afgahanistan.
    The senator didn’t tell us he was speaking of a 2002/2003 deployment.
    Obama has the ability to affect change as chair of the subcommittee – on Nato in Afghanistan now. Do you think he would do that? Just words, I guess.
    Hell, Wes Clark testified in the Hague against Milosevic in Dec. of 2003, in the middle of a presidential bid. Somehow, Clark managed to make the time. It wasn’t a politically beneficial move for Clark – GWB imposed a press blackout on it and it was a closed court room.
    With the exception of a stop in London, Obama’s never made it to Europe.
    Anyone here ever made the mistake of calling an Englishman a European?
    The guy’s a poseur.

    Reply

  2. taters says:

    Great piece, Steve.
    How many cases has Sen. Obama tried as a lawyer?
    It wasn’t that long ago when Sen. Obama referenced a junior officer of the 10th Mountain who stated his platoon lacked ammo and equipment in Afgahanistan.
    The senator didn’t tell us he was speaking of a 2002/2003 deployment.
    Obama has the ability to affect change as chair of the subcommittee – on Nato in Afghanistan now. Do you think he would do that? Just words, I guess.
    Hell, Wes Clark testified in the Hague against Milosevic in Dec. of 2003, in the middle of a presidential bid. Somehow, Clark managed to make the time. It wasn’t a politically beneficial move for Clark – GWB imposed a press blackout on it and it was a closed court room.
    With the exception of a stop in London, Obama’s never made it to Europe.
    Anyone here ever made the mistake of calling an Englishman a European?
    The guy’s a poseur.

    Reply

  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Et tu, Tahoe?
    Give the guy a break, Campaigning is hard work.
    That’s why people brag about Obama’s campaign infrastructure.
    Great at campaigning, poor at governance. Not unlike someone else currently in highest office now.

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  4. Tahoe Editor says:

    “You know, I am a believer in knowing what you’re doing when you apply for a job. And I think that if I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket I would essentially have to start now, before having served a day in the Senate. Now, there are some people who might be comfortable doing that, but I’m not one of those people.”
    — Barack Obama, November 2004

    Reply

  5. Michael F. says:

    Frankly, Obama’s experience in teaching Constitutional law, his experience in civil rights law, and his ability to admit inner conflict and ambiguity (as described in his memoirs) are of more relevance to me than any amount of experience in the Senate.
    I find it comic that only Washington experience should count on a resume, and any Senate as compromised as this one is not really a recommendation.

    Reply

  6. Roland says:

    JP:
    It’s the subcommittee on NATO.
    NATO is the entity responsible for cooperation among countries for the conflicts in Afghanistan, Kosovo, etc.
    It is precisely this cooperation among countries which is encountering obstacles in funding and personnel from the various countries (for instance, Canada has felt that European countries are not contributing their fair share of manpower).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalition_combat_operations_in_Afghanistan_in_2007
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalition_combat_operations_in_Afghanistan_in_2006

    Reply

  7. Roland says:

    Since the beginning of 2008:
    Obama 39.8% missed
    Clinton 28.3% missed
    http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/110/senate/vote-missers/

    Reply

  8. JP says:

    AND its not actually the committee that oversees Afghanistan John Kerry is in charge of that committee.

    Reply

  9. JP says:

    Fair or not fair: last year Clinton was the presumed nominee, she simply did not have to work has hard as Obama did.
    Also she had her campaign apparatus up and running, while Obama had to construct one from scratch.

    Reply

  10. Roland says:

    Obama has missed 80% of Senate votes since last September, the highest of all the Dem primary candidates.
    Clinton has missed 63%, the lowest.
    http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/11/02/obama.missed.votes/index.html

    Reply

  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Oh come on, MarkL.
    We’ve been through this before, ad nauseum. Are you denying being sympathetic towards the AIPAC agenda? If so, you have morphed away from where you stood just a short while back.
    But hey, you needn’t be so sensitive about it. Lighten up. Don’t worry. Be happy.
    Hows that ‘ol MP doing, BTW?

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  12. susan says:

    HRC’s attack on Obama for not conducting hearings on Afghanistan is a cheap shot:
    Her accusation would be true – if Biden and Kerry had held no hearings on Afghanistan. This is an incredibly significant issue in the SFRC – so there were 2 full committee hearings since January and at least one in the Subcommittee that Kerry heads that overseas Afghanistan. Both Kerry and Biden have been to Afghanistan several times and they are the ones with staff that is most expert in this area. Here are links to the two full committee meetings. They were held by the entire committee because of the importance of the issue – not because the chair of the area that overseas the near east (Kerry) or the chair of the area that overseas Europe and thus NATO (Obama) were not doing their jobs.
    http://www.senate.gov/~foreign/hearings/2008/hrg080130p
    http://www.senate.gov/~foreign/hearings/2008/hrg080131a
    There was also a hearing in the near east subcommittee shortly before the January 31, 2008 whole committee hearing. (The website seems to only list the whole committee hearings. I knew of the other because I start DU in the JK group ) Here’s a link to what was covered in that hearing.http://talkradionews.com/2008/01/senator-kerry-leads-di
    Here is a link from which you can watch the excellent press conference given by Biden and Kerry yesterday on Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday. If you saw the press conference that Biden and Kerry held yesterday on Afghanistan, it is clear that these two Senators are coordinating their efforts on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
    http://www.c-span.org/homepage.asp?Cat=Current_Event&Co
    Would it have made sense for Obama, with staffers who are expert on Europe, to have held hearing on this because NATO is there? It would have been showboating for Obama to call hearings on this when the two strongest Democratic Foreign policy experts are working very hard on the issue. HRC is insulting the SFRC, which looks like it is doing a good job holding hearings on this. Additionally, she is insulting Senators Kerry, Biden and Hagel, who are working very seriously on this issue.

    Reply

  13. susan says:

    HRC’s attack on Obama for not conducting hearings on Afghanistan is a cheap shot.
    Her accusation would be true – if Biden and Kerry had held no hearings on Afghanistan. This is an incredibly significant issue in the SFRC – so there were 2 full committee hearings since January and at least one in the Subcommittee that Kerry heads that overseas Afghanistan. Both Kerry and Biden have been to Afghanistan several times and they are the ones with staff that is most expert in this area. Here are links to the two full committee meetings. They were held by the entire committee because of the importance of the issue – not because the chair of the area that overseas the near east (Kerry) or the chair of the area that overseas Europe and thus NATO (Obama) were not doing their jobs.
    http://www.senate.gov/~foreign/hearings/2008/hrg080130p
    http://www.senate.gov/~foreign/hearings/2008/hrg080131a
    There was also a hearing in the near east subcommittee shortly before the January 31, 2008 whole committee hearing. (The website seems to only list the whole committee hearings. I knew of the other because I start DU in the JK group ) Here’s a link to what was covered in that hearing.http://talkradionews.com/2008/01/senator-kerry-leads-di
    Here is a link from which you can watch the excellent press conference given by Biden and Kerry yesterday on Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday. If you saw the press conference that Biden and Kerry held yesterday on Afghanistan, it is clear that these two Senators are coordinating their efforts on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
    http://www.c-span.org/homepage.asp?Cat=Current_Event&Co
    Would it have made sense for Obama, with staffers who are expert on Europe, to have held hearing on this because NATO is there? It would have been showboating for Obama to call hearings on this when the two strongest Democratic Foreign policy experts are working very hard on the issue. HRC is insulting the SFRC, which looks like it is doing a good job holding hearings on this. Additionally, she is insulting Senators Kerry, Biden and Hagel, who are working very seriously on this issue.

    Reply

  14. ChrisO says:

    Could Obama supporters please stop comparing him to Lincoln? I don’t want to be the one to burst your bubbles, but the world is actually a somewhat different place than when Lincoln was President. The comparison is ludicrous. Lincoln wasn’t thought of as the great Abraham Lincoln when he took office. He actually had to accomplish a great deal to be held in the esteem he is today. Comparing your guy to Lincoln is somewhat offensive. If you don’t want to be called a cult, stop with these stupid comparisons.
    I mean, as a combination of Lincoln and JFK, would you say he’s greater than the two of them combined, or just their equal? It’s too bad he doesn’t have wooden teeth, you’d have a trifecta.

    Reply

  15. RonK, Seattle says:

    Robert M — It can’t be all about VICTORY, ’cause if Obama gets VICTORY he still has to be PRESIDENT for a while. We’re not piffling over a sub-committee … we’re piffling over Obama’s executive quals.
    Will management-by-bullsession suffice? Or will the executive demands of the job rapidly outrun him? (Obama himself discounts the executive functions of the office. Will he give inspirational speeches on the White House lawn every afternoon? What will the inspired then go out and do?)
    Who will play Chief of Staff? Is Obama’s hip new style even amenable to a CoS model?
    If Obama is a disaster as Chief Executive, whence the progressive movements after him?

    Reply

  16. Robert M. says:

    Give it up, Steve. “…events, when ta’en at the flood, lead on to Victory.”
    Like the OTHER tall, skinny lawyer from Illinois who had just one congressional term under his belt, Obama’s ambition is like a little engine that knows no rest. So freakin’ what? Hillary’s better off in the Senate or over at SCOTUS–which is where Lincoln moved Chase.
    This is ALL ABOUT VICTORY over the Wrong-headed and the Totally Clueless GOP. These people, including now McCain for god’s sakes, TORTURE people!
    And you are piffling over a sub-committee? When he’s POTUS, do you know what else he’ll be? Defacto president of sub-Saharan Africa specifically as well as THE most articulate Leader of the Free World since Sorensen wrote JFK’s speeches.
    Revolutionary Change!

    Reply

  17. say_what? says:

    Steve, I partially agree with you in that I didn’t much like Senator Obama’s response in the debate (lame), but since Senator Biden is conducting full committee hearings on Afghanistan…
    http://www.senate.gov/~foreign/hearings/2008/hrg080130p.html
    http://www.senate.gov/~foreign/hearings/2008/hrg080131a.html
    …might it not appear as tho ‘grandstanding’? were Obama to call those meetings now?

    Reply

  18. mike/ says:

    it doesn’t surprise me at all. this is exactly how he operated in the Illinois Senate. he talked more than acted. he could organize, but follow-through was a different matter.

    Reply

  19. tomj says:

    First some flattery: Chuck Hagel traveled last week to Afghanistan, Turkey, etc., considering he is retiring, that seems above and beyond the call of duty.
    But, this Subcommittee stuff could become more of a real issue if someone would just explain what in the hell they are supposed to do, and what happens if they don’t meet. Is Obama blocking hearings? Is he the only member of the subcommittee? Have other members, from either party, complained about the lack of meetings? Is there something pending before the subcommittee that needs to be done? Has the parent committee passed off work to the subcommittee?
    The mere fact that the subcommittee hasn’t had any hearings seems to be the thinnest possible evidence of anything. With more information, this lack of hearings might become informative, but not yet.

    Reply

  20. Carroll says:

    I am sorta with JohnH.
    Anyone seen any of the dozen committees produce much of anything?…come to any conclusions they actually acted on?..that made any difference?..to the rank and file citizens that is, not special interest.
    Maybe someone who keeps up with it better than I can point out some of their accomplishments for the country.

    Reply

  21. JohnH says:

    Maybe Obama could chair a sensational hearing on how some European, or preferably Kosovar, soccer player has been using steroids. In my mind, the Roger Clemens hearings set a new low. Unable to accomplish anything, even subpoena the real lawbreakers in the administration, they descended into tabloid sensationalism to give the appearance of doing something.
    Given Congress’ approval ratings, Obama would do well to keep his distance from this hapless bunch of losers.

    Reply

  22. Zathras says:

    Since all three of the remaining candidates have the same job, it might be worth thinking about what each of them might do if they didn’t get elected President this year.
    John McCain is easy. He’d serve out his term, and then retire. Of course, that’s what I thought he’d do eight years ago, not reckoning on the tremendous leadership vacuum in the Republican Party that made this year’s McCain candidacy viable.
    Hillary Clinton, of whom I am not an admirer, could turn into a very productive Senator — if she wants to, and if she gives up the idea that she could replace her husband as President. Sen. Kennedy is the obvious precedent, but many other notable Senators — Hatfield of Oregon, Barry Goldwater, any number of Southern Senators in the era when it was assumed no one from the states of the old Confederacy could ever become President — achieved eminence as legislators only after giving up their ambition to work out of the Oval Office. I don’t know if Sen. Clinton is interested in following this path, but I think she could if she wanted to, and be very effective.
    Sen. Obama? Frankly, I think that he is interested in being President, and only in being President. Almost immediately after he was elected to the Senate, people started talking to him about running for President; he might not have intended at the start to use his Senate seat as a mere stepping stone, but that’s all it has been. John Edwards chose this path before him, pausing from his pursuit of the White House only to go through the motions as John Kerry’s running mate. Now that Edwards’s candidacy has failed, he’s out, as far as public service is concerned.
    Obama, of course, represents Illinois, a heavily Democratic state (Edwards, who only got elected in North Carolina because the Republican incumbent Senator he beat was a prize doofus, was never a better than 50-50 bet to be reelected), and could almost certainly get another term if he wanted it. My guess is that, if he were to lose this year’s Presidential election, he wouldn’t want it. He’s absorbed the idea that he is a transformational leader, and for people who believe that about themselves only one office will do.

    Reply

  23. MarkL says:

    POA,
    You should have been banned months ago.
    I know I am not the only who rarely ventures hear because of your idiotic chatter and your personal attacks. This is Steve’s blog—not yours.
    Of course, Steve is willing to make it the Steve Clemons/Poa blog, which diminishes its lustre greatly.
    I think you are trying to imply that I’m a Jew, and a Zionist Jew at that.
    Nothing could be further from the truth.
    Domestic issues are where the crucial differences between Obama and Clinton lie, in my opinion.

    Reply

  24. PissedOffAmerican says:

    MarkL, why not come out and admit that your candidate is the AIPAC candidate, and that is the only candidate you are willing to support?
    A shame you can’t put Kohr in office, ain’t it?

    Reply

  25. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Gosh, you mean Obama has a remarkably shallow resume??? Gee, who coulda guessed it?
    The L.A.Times ran an article, (a loooong article), the other day outlining both Hillary’s and Obama’s Senate histories. The comical aspect of this article was the author’s comment that Obama’s Senate tenure has been spent accumulating a foreign policy resume. But try as one might, upon perusing the article, one could not find where the author was able to validate that assertion with actual specifics, other than a mention of Obama’s trip to Russia on a fact finding mission concerning the securement of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
    This guy is entirely made up of media mixed paper mache, and ya gotta wonder why the money is buying the Oval Office for him. Who, exactly, is this guy zoomin’, behind the scenes?
    Hillary, on the other hand, did quite alot for New York. She CAN game the system. And if she is so good at playing the game, that makes her as undesirable as this empty suit Obama. Two frauds at opposite ends of the “can do” spectrum. One a “yes I can, I just haven’t”, the other a “yes I can, so bend over here I come”.
    Me??? I’m thinking about going ahead and bending over. At least I know whats coming, and thats beats getting an unexpected goose.

    Reply

  26. Greg says:

    I agree that I would like it if Obama had held hearings, and that he should for both substantive and political reasons hold one or two in the next few months. All said, though, this doesn’t seem like a particularly crucial point, particularly given that he only began to chair the subcommittee in 2007 as he began to run for President.
    If Obama appeared to lack work ethic or substance as a legislator more broadly, this would be a part of that larger story. That, however, does not strike me as a very credible argument. Also, I just don’t think a “you didn’t hold hearings” argument will resonate with the outside-the-beltway, voting public. I don’t believe that anyone thinks that Obama will ignore Afghanistan and Nato if he is elected President and in a position actually to control US policy.

    Reply

  27. ATown says:

    Ready on Day One? According to Stiglitz, that’s an expensive boo boo.
    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23286149-2703,00.html“>http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23286149-2703,00.html”>http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23286149-2703,00.html

    Reply

  28. CTown says:

    Yes, I believe making all of this an issue is all part of the “kitchen sink” strategy. Perhaps, if the Clinton campaign were more competent, this could have been raised as an issue months ago instead of a week before what is likely to be the breaking point. Proves only to me, once again, that Clinton is a good candidate who has been “done in” by one of the most hapless primary campaigns I can remember.
    One can only hope that Sen. Clinton can use this entire experience as positively as Al Gore was able to reintroduce himself to the American people after his defeat in 2000.

    Reply

  29. MarkL says:

    Steve,
    Frankly, this is just more evidence Obama is unfit to be President. If he doesn’t take his duties as Senator seriously, how can we expect him to take the Presidency seriously?
    You should read this link, btw:
    http://noquarterusa.net/blog/2008/02/28/shocker-obama-campaign-reveals-fake-stand-on-nafta/#more-1651
    “Within the last month, a top staff member for Obama’s campaign telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, and warned him that Obama would speak out against NAFTA, according to Canadian sources.”
    The Canadian press has been discussing this, but not the US press–yet.
    Obama is a phony, through and through.
    Expect him to privatize SS too.
    That is the policy position of all of his economic advisers, and it is the only position consistent with his stated preference for personal choice.

    Reply

  30. Steve LaBonne says:

    Earth to Beltway chattering class: nobody in the real world gives a rat’s ass.

    Reply

  31. Sentient says:

    The Vast Clinton Conspiracy strikes again with the same old tricks. Do they take us for fools?
    Via TPM:
    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/02/27/clinton-camps-highlights-obamas-chairmanship/

    Reply

  32. ... says:

    Wrong. Brandishing a gavel and counting time in a Senate sub-committee is a less effective way for Senator Obama to serve the public interest than making it his top priority to meet and convince millions and millions and millions and millions of his fellow Americans of his fitness to serve as president in the months ahead.

    Reply

  33. leo says:

    “discovered that Barack Obama, despite his role as Chairman of the European Subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had not held a single policy hearing during his tenure.”
    Another Clinton talking point, said by Hillary on News Hour just last night for instance.

    Reply

  34. charlie says:

    Is the european subcommittee really a place to demonstrate expertise? I think there is a mismatch between his advisors (Lake, Rice, Powers) and the jurisdiction.
    Also, I’m not sure there is an opportunity to bash the administration. Afghanistan is dangerous to touch. NATO is getting better. Missle defense is also a tricky one. What can you say about Kosovo that will help you get votes?

    Reply

  35. bellgong says:

    Obama has been involved with a large number of bills, and this will work as a response to criticism of a lack of committee activity, by confusing one type of activity with another, as is so common in campaigns. He will likely earn criticism that will get more traction with committee activities, by appearing partisan (or pandering), unless it is so bland as to not be worthwhile. People believe the excuse that he is busy running for office, as long as he shows up for votes I don’t see this as a threat.

    Reply

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