What Sen. Obama said on war powers, the debt and judicial nominations

On Capitol Hill, one of President Obama’s most vexing critics has been . . . Senator Obama. In three different debates, Obama’s critics have dug up speeches and votes from his time in Congress and used them to show that he appears to be contradicting his prior opinions.

On war powers

What Sen. Obama said:

“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Source: Boston Globe Q&A,
Dec. 20, 2007

What’s happened since:

Obama authorized U.S. participation in a military campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. He has not obtained authorization from Congress, asserting that, because U.S. troops are not involved in “hostilities” there, authorization isn’t required under the law.

On the debt ceiling

What Sen. Obama said:

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government’s reckless fiscal policies. . . . Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.”

Source: Congressional Record,
March 16, 2006

What’s happened since:

Obama has asked Congress to raise the debt ceiling again this year, warning of economic catastrophe if the country defaults on its debts. He told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he regrets his decision in 2006. “I think that it’s important to understand the vantage point of a senator versus the vantage point of a . . . president. When you’re a senator, traditionally what’s happened is [raising the debt ceiling] is always a lousy vote. Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit for the United States by a trillion dollars,” Obama said. “As president, you start realizing: ‘You know what? We can’t play around with this stuff.’ ”

On judicial nominations

What Sen. Obama said (about a filibuster against the nomination of now-Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.):

“Well, I will be supporting the filibuster because I think Judge Alito, in fact, is somebody who is contrary to core American values, not just liberal values, you know. When you look at his decisions in particular during times of war, we need a court that is independent and is going to provide some check on the executive branch, and he has not shown himself willing to do that repeatedly. I will say this, though, I think that the Democrats have to do a much better job in making their case on these issues. These last-minute efforts using procedural maneuvers inside the Beltway, I think, has been the wrong way of going about it.”

Source: ABC News transcript,
Jan. 29, 2006

What’s happened since:

Obama’s nominees for judicial posts have been held up by GOP filibuster threats. In several cases, Republican senators have said Obama’s 2006 decision set a precedent that is being used against him.

David A. Fahrenthold

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.
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