What: All Issues : War & Peace : National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) amendment to reaffirm strong support for all the men and women of the U.S. armed forces and to strongly condemn attacks on their patriotism/On adoption of the amendment
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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) amendment to reaffirm strong support for all the men and women of the U.S. armed forces and to strongly condemn attacks on their patriotism/On adoption of the amendment
senate Roll Call 343     Sep 20, 2007
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This vote was on an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to legislation setting policy for the Defense Department for fiscal 2008. Boxer's amendment would have affirmed Congress' strong support for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces and strongly condemned attacks on their honor, integrity, and patriotism by any person or organization.

This vote was one of two focused on controversy about an ad put taken out in the New York Times by the liberal advocacy group Moveon.org. The ad asked whether Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, should be called "General Betray Us" for what the group deemed misleading testimony before Congress regarding the progress the military is making in Iraq. Moveon.org maintained that the country is mired in an unwinnable religious war and that the general falsely portrayed progress against a growing insurgency.

Boxer's amendment was a Democratic alternative to another amendment proposed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that was much more specific in its condemnation of the Moveon.org ad and personal attacks against Petraeus and all members of the armed forces. (See Roll Call 344.)

Boxer asserted that there is a "terrible trend in America today" of launching attacks on military personnel, adding: "By the way, it isn't just folks who were mentioned or alluded to." Boxer pointed to news articles reporting that Ret. Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni was called a "traitor" and "turncoat" for mentioning that the problems in Iraq were easily predictable and what he deemed were multiple strategic blunders by the administration and the Pentagon. Similar accusations have been hurled at Ret. Army Gen. John Batiste, who made critical statements about President Bush's management of the war.

Democrats also pointed out that then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who lost three limbs in Vietnam, had his patriotism questioned for voting against the creation of the Homeland Security Department by political ads in his failed 2002 reelection campaign; his picture was put side-by-side with that of Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's. During the 2004 presidential election campaign, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) also had his military service questioned by the political group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

"My friend from Texas is taking one example, attacking an organization that he doesn't agree with - I am sure of that - and we are going to be pretty busy in the Senate if we turn into the ad police," Boxer said of Cornyn. "When Senator Cleland was attacked we didn't have a resolution on the floor of the Senate. When Senator Kerry was attacked we didn't do it. When General Batiste was attacked we didn't do it. For General Zinni we didn't do it.

"Suddenly, now, a political organization is attacked by name in a resolution in something that reminds me of the old, bad days in America when organizations were attacked by the government," Boxer continued.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he asked Cornyn to include attacks by other organizations in his amendment, but Durbin said Cornyn refused because political campaigns were a different matter.

To which Durbin responded: "If the principle is sound, it is sound whether it is in the course of a political campaign or not. If we are going to stand up for the honor, integrity, and patriotism of those who serve our country in uniform, let's do it without partisan favor and certainly not arguing that a political campaign is somehow fair game to say anything about anybody."

Durbin said he cosponsored Boxer's amendment because it condemned personal attacks against all members of the armed forces, regardless of whether they were involved in a political campaign.

But not all Democrats supported Boxer's amendment. For his part, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said both Boxer's and Cornyn's amendments were distractions from the "real issue," namely, the U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

"I disagreed with the language used in all of the ads addressed in these amendments, but we should not let those ads sidetrack the real work of the Senate," Feingold said. "I hope the Senate will not get in the habit of condemning political speech, even speech that is offensive."

In the end, the amendment found enough supporters to pass with a simple majority but not enough to reach the higher threshold of a three-fifths majority required by a previous agreement between the Democrat leadership and Republican leadership.

The final vote was 50 to 47, with all Democrats but Feingold in support and all Republicans except Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) opposed. Thus, on a near party-line vote, the Senate failed to pass an amendment expressing support for members of the armed forces and condemning personal attacks against their patriotism by any person or organization. Legislation setting broad policy goals for the Defense Department for fiscal 2008 proceeded without the provision.

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