Thursday, January 19, 2006

More than 45 years have gone by since John F. Kennedy was elected president, the last sitting senator to make it. Dozens have tried. All have failed.

Nevertheless, there has never been a shortage of presidential ambition in the Senate. Indeed, at least 11 current senators (Democrats Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, Tom Harkin, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry; Republicans Dick Lugar, Arlen Specter, Orrin Hatch, JohnMcCain,Lamar Alexander and Elizabeth Dole) have run for president. Mr. Alexander has run twice, both times before he became a senator.

Today, five Democratic senators (Messrs. Biden and Kerry, as well as Evan Bayh, Russell Feingold and Hillary Clinton) are widely seen as actively considering pursuing the 2008 nomination. The Republican side of the Senate aisle has at least five possibles (Mr. McCain, Bill Frist, Chuck Hagel, Sam Brownback and George Allen) and a potential sixth (Rick Santorum, if he wins re-election this year).

Senators have a difficult time making it to the White House because they must first get past the thousands of votes they have cast as legislators (and the spin their opponents — many of them fellow senators — put on those votes). Over the next three years, we will continue to review the voting records of likely presidential candidates. Today we focus on the 16 “key votes” in 2005 selected by CQ Weekly as cast by the five Democratic senators likely to pursue the presidency. Later we will review the votes cast by Republican wannabes.

On 10 of the 16 votes, the five Democrats (Mrs. Clinton and Messrs. Biden, Kerry, Bayh and Feingold) voted in unison. Unanimously, they supported an amendment to the bankruptcy-reform bill that would have prohibited pro-life protesters from escaping court-ordered fines by filing for bankruptcy. They all voted to maintain filibusters against (a) the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador; (b) the bill reauthorizing the Patriot Act, which, by the way, all (except Mr. Feingold) had supported in 2001; and (c) the defense-appropriation bill, because it contained a provision allowing oil and gas production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. All five opposed the Central American Free Trade agreement; and they all voted against a bill that would bar lawsuits seeking to make gun and ammunition manufacturers and dealers liable for gun violence. All voted for the six-year, $286 billion transportation bill containing more than 6,000 earmarked projects. All supported the McCain amendment establishing uniform interrogation procedures and prohibitingcrueland degrading treatment of all prisoners in U.S. custody. All opposed the budget-reconciliation bill, which reduced by $40 billion the increase in entitlement spending over five years.

Mr. Bayh exhibited the most independence from his fellow aspirants, casting four votes dissenting from the views of a majority of the five senators. He alone supported a class-action reform bill and an overhaul of energy policy. Against the views of the other three, Mr. Bayh was joined by Mrs. Clinton in voting to end the filibuster against the appellate-court nomination of Priscilla Owen, although both voted against her eventual confirmation. Mr. Bayh was joined by Mr. Feingold in supporting the transfer of $125 million in Alaskan bridge money to the reconstruction of a Louisiana bridge destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Among the five presidential aspirants, only Mr. Feingold joined 21 other Democrats, all 55 Republicans and independent Jim Jeffords to vote to confirm John Roberts as chief justice of the United States. Among the five, only Mr. Kerry was missing from the bipartisan, 79-vote majority that adopted an amendment in November requiring President Bush to submit quarterly reports to Congress detailing U.S. policy and actions in Iraq and explaining the administration’s strategy for completing America’s mission there.

Another way of looking at these five senators is to compare how often each of them agreed with Ted Kennedy, one of the Senate’s most doctrinaire liberals. Mr. Kerry’s votes coincided with Mr. Kennedy’s 100 percent of the time, confirming yet again their relationship as “the Massachusetts Twins.” For Mr. Biden, it was 15 out of 16, producing a “Kennedy rating” of 94 percent. Mrs. Clinton agreed with Mr. Kennedy on 14 of the 16 votes (88 percent), and Mr. Feingold’s votes matched Mr. Kennedy’s 13 times (81 percent). Mr. Bayh, the most moderate of the five, voted with Mr. Kennedy 11 out of 16 times (69 percent).

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