Morning Joe hosts launched misleading attacks on Obama over state Senate votes

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist ridiculed Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for "push[ing] the wrong button" when casting votes as an Illinois state senator. But they failed to make clear that, according to the Los Angeles Times article they were referencing (which addressed only five of the six alleged mistaken votes), Obama stated that he had voted the wrong way and asked that the record reflect that fact for each of those five votes when he actually cast them in the Illinois state Senate.

On the January 24 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist ridiculed Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for "push[ing] the wrong button" when casting votes as an Illinois state senator, referring to a Los Angeles Times article from that day reporting: "During his eight years in state office, Obama cast more than 4,000 votes. Of those, according to transcripts of the proceedings in Springfield, he hit the wrong button at least six times." Co-host Mika Brzezinski noted that the article quoted Obama saying of two such votes, "I pressed the wrong button on that," and "I pressed the wrong button by accident," to which Geist responded: "Come on, Barack. That's weak." Scarborough added: "Oh, come on. What are you doing?" However, Geist, Scarborough, and Brzezinski failed to make clear that, according to the Times article -- which addressed only five of the six alleged mistaken votes -- Obama stated that he had voted the wrong way and asked that the record reflect that fact for each of those five votes when he actually cast them in the Illinois state Senate. Rather, Scarborough and Geist both used the present tense in referring to Obama's comments, suggesting he is only now acknowledging the errors. Scarborough asked: "No, he's not saying that, is he?" and Geist said: "He's saying that he pushed the wrong button?"

Additionally, Brzezinski, Scarborough, and Geist failed to note that according to the Times article: "The rules allow state lawmakers to clear up a mishap if they suffered from a momentary case of stumbly fingers or a lapse in attention. Correcting the record is common practice in the Illinois Legislature, where lawmakers routinely cast numerous votes in a hurry." Rather, Scarborough, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from Florida, suggested that the assertion that one casts a vote by mistake is not plausible: "I voted tens of thousands of times, and you know -- there is a green button that says 'Yea' .. and there is a red button that says 'Nay' ... and then there's a yellow button that ... says 'Abstain.' "

However, according to the Congressional Record for March 30, 2000, as a member of the House of Representatives, following a roll call vote in which Scarborough was recorded as voting "aye," Scarborough stated on the floor of the House: "I inadvertently voted 'yes.' I meant to vote 'no.' "

During a January 24 washingtonpost.com online discussion, Post congressional blogger and former Roll Call reporter Paul Kane, when asked about the Times article by a reader, wrote:

I really don't know the rules of the Illinois legislature, and this is not a defense of Obama, more an explanation of the rules here in Congress. folks, you'd be amazed how many times these men and women here vote the wrong way. And, if they make a good-faithed effort soon enough after a vote, it is officially switched here in the US Senate.

[...]

Happens a lot more than you'd realize.

From the January 24 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

BRZEZINSKI: And you know, the one thing we haven't brought up, as we bring up this sort of rift between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and look ahead to South Carolina this Saturday, which we'll be covering, is these reports coming out that he bungled votes -- that he pushed the wrong button. Have you seen this? And he's getting --

SCARBOROUGH: No, he's not saying that, is he?

BRZEZINSKI: He's not saying --

GEIST: He pushed the wrong button?

SCARBOROUGH: He's saying that he pushed the wrong button?

GEIST: No.

BRZEZINSKI: At least five times during his eight years in the state office, Obama cast a vote and then said he had hit the wrong button.

SCARBOROUGH: No, he did not.

BRZEZINSKI: Uh-huh.

SCARBOROUGH: No, he didn't.

GEIST: Joe, you voted.

SCARBOROUGH: I --

GEIST: How often did you hit the wrong button?

SCARBOROUGH: I voted tens of thousands of times, and you know -- there is a green button that says "Yea" --

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: -- and there is a red button that says "Nay" --

GEIST: I thought so.

SCARBOROUGH: -- and then there's a yellow button that --

BRZEZINSKI: So, like --

SCARBOROUGH: -- says "Abstain."

BRZEZINSKI: -- March 11, 1999, a vote against legislation to end good-behavior credits on felons, "I pressed he wrong button on that," he said. "I pressed the wrong button by accident."

GEIST: Come on, Barack. That's weak.

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, come on. What are you doing?

BRZEZINSKI: But apparently, he tried to change it after. I mean, I don't know. Anyhow --

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, my God.

GEIST: We need an explanation on that.

BRZEZINSKI: Hey, Shuster. Can Shuster weigh in on that?

SCARBOROUGH: David Shuster, what about this? Barack Obama votes -- he passes on a lot of votes --

BRZEZINSKI: Well, no, no. I think that's --

SCARBOROUGH: No, no, he passed -- he voted present on a lot of votes.

BRZEZINSKI: OK, it was a small amount, though -- thousands.

SCARBOROUGH: And now -- it wasn't a small amount.

BRZEZINSKI: And it was -- there were legal issues involved in some of those present votes.

SCARBOROUGH: OK, all I can say is --

BRZEZINSKI: And just think --

SCARBOROUGH: -- I cast thousands and thousands of votes, I don't think I ever voted present. But anyway --

BRZEZINSKI: OK.

SCARBOROUGH: -- maybe they do things --

SHUSTER: You know what?

SCARBOROUGH: -- differently in Illinois, but here now we have a story that -- from the LA Times, suggesting that Barack Obama said he accidentally pressed the wrong button in casting votes while he was in the Illinois state legislature.

GEIST: Wow.

BRZEZINSKI: Shuster?

SHUSTER: You know what, Joe? If this story is true, it is outrageous. I mean, how can Barack Obama, who's now running for the president, have pushed the wrong buttons? I mean, that's your key -- I mean, it's not as if he had all these other distractions. Your job as a state legislator or a member of the U.S. Senate is to know exactly what you're voting on. And if you don't know what you're voting on or you're confused, then you ask somebody.

But to push the wrong button, and then to say, "Oh, you know, I was confused and made a mistake"? No, that is not acceptable. You're running for the president, you need to be prepared, you need to know -- you need to take your positions seriously and know exactly what you're doing. And I think -- I mean, if this story is true, I just think it's inexcusable. It's inexcusable.

SCARBOROUGH: It seems like a silly excuse, actually, to try to get around certain votes. But, maybe, again, maybe it's -- maybe there are a lot of distractions in the Illinois state legislature that you don't have on the floors of Congress. I don't get it.

From the January 24 Los Angeles Times article:

Barack Obama angered fellow Democrats in the Illinois Senate when he voted to strip millions of dollars from a child welfare office on Chicago's West Side. But Obama had a ready explanation: He goofed.

"I was not aware that I had voted no," he said that day in June 2002, asking that the record be changed to reflect that he "intended to vote yes."

That was not the only misfire for the former civil rights attorney first elected to the state Senate in 1996. During his eight years in state office, Obama cast more than 4,000 votes. Of those, according to transcripts of the proceedings in Springfield, he hit the wrong button at least six times.

The rules allow state lawmakers to clear up a mishap if they suffered from a momentary case of stumbly fingers or a lapse in attention. Correcting the record is common practice in the Illinois Legislature, where lawmakers routinely cast numerous votes in a hurry.

But some lawmakers say the practice also offers a relatively painless way to placate both sides of a difficult issue. Even if a lawmaker admits an error, the actual vote stands and the official record merely shows the senator's "intent."

No one has accused Obama, now a U.S. senator and a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, of changing votes to play both sides, and an Obama spokesman called that idea "absurd."

But Obama has come under fire from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina for his frequent use of another oddity of Illinois politics: voting "present" rather than casting up-or-down votes on controversial measures.

"It is very difficult having a straight-up debate with you, because you never take responsibility for any vote, and that has been a pattern," Clinton told him in a debate Monday.

Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman, said the mistaken votes were not meaningful. "In Illinois, legislators often have just a few seconds to cast a vote, so after thousands of votes they're bound to make a few mistakes," he said. Referring to Clinton's vote to authorize the war in Iraq and her support for a bankruptcy measure, Vietor added, "The real problem is when Democrats vote like Republicans."

Four of Obama's admitted flubs drew little controversy.

On March 19, 1997, he announced he had fumbled an election-reform vote the day before, on a measure that passed 51 to 6: "I was trying to vote yes on this, and I was recorded as a no," he said. The next day, he acknowledged voting "present" on a key telecommunications vote.

He stood on March 11, 1999, to take back his vote against legislation to end good-behavior credits for certain felons in county jails. "I pressed the wrong button on that," he said.

Obama was the lone dissenter on Feb. 24, 2000, against 57 yeas for a ban on human cloning. "I pressed the wrong button by accident," he said.

But two of Obama's bumbles came on more-sensitive topics. On Nov. 14, 1997, he backed legislation to permit riverboat casinos to operate even when the boats were dockside.

The measure, pushed by the gambling industry and fought by church groups whose support Obama was seeking, passed with two "yeas" to spare -- including Obama's. Moments after its passage he rose to say, "I'd like to be recorded as a no vote," explaining that he had mistakenly voted for it.

[...]

On June 11, 2002, Obama's vote sparked a confrontation after he joined Republicans to block Democrats trying to override a veto by GOP Gov. George Ryan of a $2-million allotment for the west Chicago child welfare office.

Shortly afterward, Obama chastised Republicans for their "sanctimony" in claiming that only they had the mettle to make tough choices in a tight budget year. And he called for "responsible budgeting."

A fellow Democrat suddenly seethed with anger. "You got a lot of nerve to talk about being responsible," said Sen. Rickey Hendon, accusing Obama of voting to close the child welfare office.

Obama replied right away. "I understand Sen. Hendon's anger. . . . I was not aware that I had voted no on that last -- last piece of legislation," he said.

Obama asked that the record reflect that he meant to vote yes. Then he requested that Hendon "ask me about a vote before he names me on the floor."

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist
Show/Publication
Morning Joe
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.