In an interview with Sean Hannity this week, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin focused on a foreign policy flip-flop by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.: his May 24, 2007 vote against reauthorizing funding for U.S. troops in Iraq because the bill did not include a timetable for troop withdrawal.
“Proposing and voting for cutting off funding for our troops while they’re in a war zone is so reckless and so political,” Palin said. “And Biden had even called Obama on that one. Remember, he said, ‘Obama, your move there was political, and it’s gonna cost lives.’ And yet, Obama, after promising that he would not cut off funding for troops in the war zone, he voted to do so anyway.”
ABC News’ Imtiyaz Delawala, who covers Palin, suggests that she will use this line of attack this evening at the first and only vice presidential debate in St. Louis.
“So reckless, irresponsible — we’re gonna lay that out there and again let Americans judge for themselves who they would like to see as commander in chief: John McCain, who knows how to win a war, or Sen. Obama, who has voted to cut off funding for our troops?” Palin continued, repeating a charge that the McCain-Palin campaign is also making in a TV ad that also uses Sen. Joe Biden’s words against Obama.
"My colleagues voted against the funding to make a political point," Biden said in Des Moines after the vote. "There’s no political point worth my son’s life. There’s no political point worth anyone’s life."
Biden’s son Beau, the attorney general of Delaware, will deploy to Iraq this year as a member of the National Guard.
Among other comments Biden made, hammering that vote, the loquacious Blue Hen told "Meet the Press," "I am not going to fail to protect these kids as long as we have a single, solitary troop in Iraq. This isn’t cutting off the war. This is cutting off support that will save the lives of thousands of American troops."
To step back in time to that May 2007 day, Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., were eyeing each other like scorpions in a bottle as they prepared to do battle for the votes of anti-war liberals in Iowa and elsewhere.
Neither candidate would discuss the vote before it was cast. Both were among the last dozen or so to vote; Obama slipped in quietly onto the Senate floor at close to 8:45 p.m., said hi to some colleagues, approached the desk, quietly said "No," and left. Only seconds later, Clinton did the same.
Both Clinton and Obama had said they wouldn’t vote against funding the troops, and both flip-flopped.
In March 2007, Obama had told CNN, "what you don’t want to do is to play chicken to — with the president, and create a situation in which, potentially, you don’t have body armor; you don’t have reinforced Humvees; you don’t have night-vision goggles."
But in May, he was singing a different tune.
"This vote is a choice between validating the same failed policy in Iraq that has cost us so many lives, and demanding a new one," Obama said in a statement. "And I am demanding a new one."
Clinton, in a statement, said she voted against the legislation "because it fails to compel the president to give our troops a new strategy in Iraq." She said she wished President Bush "had followed the will of the people and signed the original bill we sent, which both funded the troops and set a new course of phased redeployment."
Obama’s vote was out of the mainstream not only for the Senate as a whole — the troop funding bill passed 80-14 — as well as for Democratic senators, it was even out of the mainstream for war opponents in the Senate.
Of the 16 sitting senators who voted against going to war to begin with, 11 voted to provide funds for U.S. troops.
"Though I loathe this decision to fund the war, I will not take out my feelings against the troops in the field," said Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who voted against authorizing use of force in Iraq in October 2002. "Our soldiers should never be bargaining chips in this debate."
Durbin was joined by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chair of the Armed Services Committee, who also voted against going to war six years ago this month.
"I cannot vote to stop funding our troops who are in harm’s way," Levin said. "It is not the proper way that we can bring this war to an end. It is not the proper way that we can put pressure on Iraqi leaders."
McCain raised the issue in the first presidential debate.
"Sen. Obama, who, after promising not to vote to cut off funds for the troops, did the incredible thing of voting to cut off the funds for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," McCain said.
"Let’s talk about this troop funding issue because John always brings this up," Obama responded. "Sen. McCain opposed funding for troops in legislation that had a timetable, because he didn’t believe in a timetable. I opposed funding a mission that had no timetable, and was open-ended, giving a blank check to George Bush. We had a difference on the timetable. We didn’t have a difference on whether or not we were going to be funding troops."
But it might be more problematic for Biden to defend Obama on the vote, which Palin will assuredly raise in this evening’s debate. Biden has already criticized the vote as pandering that could cost American lives. How do you walk that statement back?