Bill and Chelsea Clinton Might Want to Fact-Check Their Speeches

Jan 24, 2008 6:32pm

Sarah Amos and Z. Bryon Wolf report: Former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton are the best surrogates Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., could hope for in this election. They are well loved by Democratic voters, know Hillary better than any two people do and believe she has the right ideas to help fix the issues voters care about.

Of course, being good doesn’t always mean you are accurate. And as tensions between Sen. Barack Obama and the Clintons rise over every discrepancy and twisted fact, accuracy has become the name of the game.

So perhaps the President and Chelsea need to go back to the record books before they start talking about Sen. Clinton’s record on Darfur.

President Clinton has been touting his wife’s commitment to Africa on the campaign trail by telling interested voters that "Hillary was the first U.S. Senator to call Darfur genocide." He used that exact line with voters in Aiken, S.C., yesterday, and it has been pointed out more than once over the course of this campaign.

The usually shy Chelsea also touted her mother’s record on Darfur, telling a group at Stanford University earlier this month that she was "really proud that my mom was the first Democratic senator to call it genocide in May of 2004 and put a lot of pressure on the Bush administration to recognize it as genocide."

Problem is, the statements simply aren’t true.

Sen. Clinton’s presidential campaign Web site states: "Hillary has been a forceful and consistent advocate for a more robust response to the violence in Darfur since May of 20004." All of which IS true. She was one of the senators who supported the May 6, 2004, legislation condemning the government of Sudan for its actions in Darfur. Her Senate website has an entire page detailing her involvement in the issue.

But being involved in solving genocide and being the first to call it genocide are two very different things. Turns out that the honor President Clinton and Chelsea are bestowing on Hillary actually belongs to Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Sam Brownback, R-Kansas.

That legislation — the one Clinton’s Senate Web site uses as the first marker for involvement — was actually led by Feingold.

In a floor speech that very day Senator Feingold said "…crimes against humanity have been and continue to be perpetrated in Darfur and the criminals responsible for these atrocities — the planners directing this horror at the highest levels — should be brought to justice."

On June 15, 2004, Feingold continued his push at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. "There seems to be some disagreement about whether what is happening in Darfur is or is not genocide. Frankly, I believe that to argue over the semantics is to miss the point," Feingold said. It was the first time the argument over whether what was happening in Darfur was genocide was brought up at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Congressional Record documents that on June 24, 2004, DeWine became the first U.S. Senator to call the situation in Darfur genocide on the actual Senate floor.

In a floor speech on July 22, 2004, Feingold followed DeWine’s lead, becoming the first Democratic Senator to use the term genocide, stating "all credible evidence indicates that what is unfolding in Darfur is genocide."

And finally, the first time any legislative action was taken to call the crisis in Darfur genocide was in S. Con Res. 124 — introduced by Brownback on July 27, 2004. That resolution had 20 cosponsors and Clinton was not one of them.

In fact, Clinton’s first press statement referring to Darfur as "genocide" wasn’t until March 16, 2006. When Clinton’s Senate office was e-mailed to get a clear date for her first use of the term genocide, spokesman Philippe Reines responded, "She has been a leading voice in calling for U.S. leadership in ending the genocide in Darfur."

So yes, Sen. Clinton has been devoted to the situation in Darfur, a fact voters have the right to know. But "first" and "devoted" are two very different things, and some would argue that voters have just as much right to know that as well.

UPDATE: This post originally stated that the first legislative action the Senate took action declaring genocide in Darfur was with S. Con Res. 124 in July of 2004. It was actually S. Con Res 133 that passed in July 2004 with 20 cosponsors. Sen. Clinton supported the legislation, but did not cosponsor it.
S. Con Res 124 also sought to declare genocide in Darfur in July of 2004. It had 31 cosponsors, one of which was Clinton, but did not pass the Senate. Both measures were introduced by Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.

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