The 2008 Democratic field took a giant leap to the left last night with one of those rare Senate votes that will be remembered for a while. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will have plenty of opportunities to explain why they were among the small minority of 14 senators to vote against war funding (and you can bet they'll be asked about it early and often). But what does it say about their read of the political landscape that they felt the need to vote the way they did?
Both camps spun the votes as a way to force President Bush to pursue a new course in Iraq. But somehow most other Democrats didn't find it necessary to vote against war funding to convey that message. "The no vote was not the mainstream Democratic view," ABC's Jake Tapper reports, adding that, "of the 16 sitting senators who voted against going to war to begin with, 11 voted to provide funds for US troops Thursday evening."
Chalk it up to intimidation: Clinton and Obama were pushed into voting no by liberal activists and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., who has been heeding the anti-war call for months. (Can anyone imagine a scenario under which Clinton, Obama, and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., would have voted against war funding -- not to mention the minimum-wage add-on -- if they WEREN'T running for president?)
For the record, Obama voted first, followed by Clinton. (Her vote was more of a surprise, but she fulfilled a key political objective: keeping her voting record on the war in line with Obama's.) They both learned the John Kerry Memorial lesson last night: It's no fun to be in the Senate while running for president. They may have helped themselves with primary voters, (MoveOn.org can save on its advertising budget, at least for now) but voting against war funding provides the GOP with ready ammunition for the general election.
The repercussions of the vote will be felt for months outside and inside of Congress, given the deep Democratic split the vote displayed. In the House, it was the minority leader, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, tearing up in support of the bill, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined many of her committee chairmen in voting against it. The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman labels it "a historical rarity: the passage of a bill opposed by the speaker of the House and a majority of the speaker's party."
In the end, Democrats calculated that they'd rather live to wage the fight another day. That day will come in September, when this batch of funds runs out. "You can change things if you just keep at it," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., told The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers. "By September, they'll come around, I think."
Clinton gets more '08 scrutiny today: Washington Post reporters got a hold of the two forthcoming Clinton books, and find no shortage of nuggets that will be part of the presidential mix. Per the Post's write-up, Carl Bernstein's book has her contemplating divorce and considering a run for governor of Arkansas "out of anger at her husband's indiscretions," and has her deciding as first lady "not to be forthcoming with investigators because she was convinced she was unfairly targeted."