David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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Clinton Says Obama Was MIA on Afghanistan. But Was She, Too?

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 8:17 AM PST

In the past few days, as Hillary Clinton has intensified her attacks on Barack Obama prior to the all-important primaries in Ohio and Texas, she has claimed that he has been "missing in action" regarding Afghanistan. Clinton has been trying to make the case that she's better prepped than Obama to be commander-in-chief and more qualified to answer the phone at 3:00 a.m. when crisis strikes. To prove her point, she notes that Obama, who chairs a foreign relations subcommittee covering European matters, has held not one hearing on how to bolster NATO in Afghanistan. This weekend she told reporters on her campaign plane that he has failed in a "responsibility that is directly related to Afghanistan." She urged the journos to grill Obama on this. She said that Afghanistan is "one of the two most important challenges internationally." And she added, "I think he was missing in action...because he was running for president."

It's true that Obama has convened no meetings of the subcommittee, but his camp counters that he became chair of the subcommittee early last year, just as he was starting his presidential campaign. Clinton is technically correct that Obama could have used the subcommittee to conduct oversight of actions and policies related to Afghanistan. But the full foreign relations committee, under the guidance of Senator Joe Biden, has held several hearings on Afghanistan that covered NATO's role there. It's not as if the foreign relations committee did nothing on Afghanistan because Obama did not take on the mission. Also, as happens with many committees, the chair of the full committee reserves the right to handle the big issues him- or herself, and Afghanistan counts as a big issue.

Clinton ought to be careful about hurling stones in this area. As she always tells campaign crowds, she is a member of the Senate armed services committee. In February the committee held two hearings on Afghanistan. On February 8, it focused on appropriations for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was a witness. Eight days later, the committee zeroed in on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, holding a two-part hearing examining recent reports on Afghanistan. Key witnesses included senior officials from the State Department and the Pentagon responsible for the administration's Afghanistan policy.

Clinton attended neither of these hearings. She was on the campaign trail.

Many hearings occur on Capitol Hill without all members--or even a majority of members--of the committee in attendance. In fact, that's more common than not. At plenty of hearings, the committee chair is the only senator or representative present. So it's no surprise or scandal that Clinton was not there for these two Afghanistan hearings. (She did participate in two hearings on Afghanistan held by the committee in the first half of 2007.) But in a campaign season, a spinner could easily say that she's guilty of the same charge she tosses at Obama: putting presidential campaigning ahead of Afghanistan. Her neglect, certainly, is not the same as his: he held no hearings for a year; she attended no hearings this year. But as Clinton throws the kitchen sink at Obama, she ought to make sure nuts and bolts don't bounce back at her.

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Citing the Delegate Math, the Obama Camp Tells Clinton: You Will "Fail Miserably"

| Fri Feb. 29, 2008 9:02 AM PST

In a conference call with reporters on Friday morning, David Plouffe, Barack Obama's campaign manager, had a stark message for the Clinton camp: You will "fail miserably." He was referring to Hillary Clinton's attempt to overtake Obama in the pledged delegate count.

Plouffe maintained that even if Clinton wins Ohio and Texas she will not rack up much of a net gain in delegates. In Ohio, for instance, if the winner of that Democratic primary triumphs by 5 percent, he or she might only pick up 3 or so more delegates than the loser, thanks to the proportional awarding of delegates. Plouffe ran through the tough math Clinton faces. Currently, he said, Obama has a lead of 162 delegates. (The count at Realclearpolitics.com has Obama up by 155.) If Clinton wins close contests in both Ohio and Texas--and polls now suggest these elections will be close--she might cut Obama's lead to 150 or so pledged delegates. After March 4, there are 611 pledged delegates up for grabs in the subsequent primaries and caucuses. Consequently, Clinton would have to win over 60 percent of those delegates to catch up. And to do so, she would have to score a series of super-majority wins in the remaining states. Plouffe called it a "huge task" for Clinton to erase Obama's pledged delegate lead. And he noted that the Obama campaign could end up netting more delegates from the upcoming contests in Mississippi and Wyoming than Clinton might gain on March 4, should she place first in both Ohio and Texas. If Obama's pledged delegate lead doesn't precipitously drop to 100 in the next few contests, Plouffe asserted, the Clintonites "simply don't have any avenue to the nomination."

Sure, this is spin. But sometimes spin can be true, and the math, at this point, does favor Obama.

In the call, Plouffe also responded to the latest Clinton ad. That spot shows children dozing in bed, and a baritonal narrator somberly says, "It's three A.M. and your children are safe and asleep." But the phone is ringing in the White House: "something is happening in the world." The unseen narrator asks, "Who do you want answering the phone?"

Bush's Newest Secret: Who's Funding His Library?

| Thu Feb. 28, 2008 9:38 AM PST

southern-methodist-university250x200.jpg

At a White House press conference on Thursday morning, George W. Bush was a bit too cute when it came to an important matter: the funding of his presidential library.

News reports have noted that the library, to be set up at Southern Methodist University, will cost more than $200 million. The question is, who will pay for it? The tabs for presidential libraries are not covered by the taxpayers. They are picked up by nonprofit foundations, and these foundations have no obligation to disclose their sources of money. Bill Clinton has refused to say who is funding his library through the William J. Clinton Foundation, though the Washington Post reported that the royal family of Saudi Arabia contributed $10 million to the Little Rock facility.

It is troubling when the spouse of a presidential candidate receives millions of dollars secretly from one or more overseas sources. But what's more problematic is the prospect of a sitting president obtaining foreign cash for a pet project and not disclosing it. (The Saudis reportedly also gave the presidential library of the first President Bush millions of dollars. After being generous to George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, it's unlikely they will stiff the younger Bush)

Civil Rights Hero Makes It Official: I'm Dumping Clinton for Obama

| Wed Feb. 27, 2008 2:06 PM PST

Two weeks ago I identified a possible tipping point for Barack Obama: Representative John Lewis's statement that he probably would vote for Obama as a superdelegate at the Democratic convention.

Now the civil rights hero has made it official by actually endorsing Obama.

Lewis has a lot of cred among House Democrats, among African American Democrats, among superdelegates. His move is an indicator that Clinton, who has a lead in committed superdelegates at this point, may not be able to count on that support. Lewis's announcement--even though it's not so newsy given his previous statement--is rather bad news for the Clinton camp.

Obama and Clinton Debate in Cleveland: No Pain, No Gain

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 10:40 PM PST

If the political winds in Ohio and Texas are blowing in Barack Obama's favor—and polls in each state show Obama gaining strength—Hillary Clinton did little during Tuesday night's debate in Cleveland to change the weather.

With a week to go before primaries in those important states, this debate was much a repeat of last Thursday's face-off. The two remaining Democratic candidates once again got hot and bothered over the issue of health care insurance mandates. But neither had anything new to say. The Clinton campaign has been pounding Obama for weeks on this front, but the wonky issue has not provided her any traction. And after 16 minutes of grueling back and forth—much of which was devoted to each candidate insisting that unnamed experts had pronounced his or her plan the best—Clinton did not achieve any breakthrough. She claimed the difference between their two health care proposals—she's for a comprehensive mandate that would force all Americans to purchase health insurance; he's for a limited mandate covering insurance for kids—is the defining issue of the Democratic presidential contest. His response: not really. He minimized the gap between their plans. And it's hard for a candidate to have a battle royale with a foe who deftly maintains, we ain't got that big of a dispute here, let's move on. By now it should be clear: mandates are not going to save Hillary Clinton.

The other big squabble of the night came right after the mandates mudwrestle, and it focused on NAFTA, which has emerged as an issue in the past week, with Clinton and Obama competing for blue-collar Democratic voters in Ohio. As part of this tussle, Clinton has in recent days complained that Obama has unfairly tarred her as a flip-flopper on NAFTA. (Her current position: the trade accord is flawed, needs to be renegotiated, and there should be a time-out in negotiating similar treaties.) At the debate, she declared that she's been a critic of NAFTA "from the very beginning." Obama called her out on this—and simultaneously, his campaign sent reporters a link to a YouTube video in which she praises NAFTA. (Obama's campaign website conveniently features a list of Clinton's pro-NAFTA remarks over the years.)

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