What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Freedom of Speech and Press : National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) amendment to express the sense of the Senate that Gen. David H. Petraeus deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of Petraeus and all members of the U.S. armed forces/On adoption of the amendment (2007 senate Roll Call 344)
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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) amendment to express the sense of the Senate that Gen. David H. Petraeus deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of Petraeus and all members of the U.S. armed forces/On adoption of the amendment
senate Roll Call 344     Sep 20, 2007
Progressive Position:
Nay
Progressive Result:
Loss

This vote was on an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to legislation setting policy for the Defense Department for fiscal 2008. Cornyn's amendment would have affirmed the Senate's strong support for Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and strongly condemned attacks on his patriotism or that of any the men and women of the U.S. armed forces 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. (See also Roll Call 343.) 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.

Cornyn urged his colleagues to "rise up unanimously and condemn this character assassination of General Petraeus."

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.

Cornyn said political campaigns are different. "There is a difference in kind, and I hope colleagues would, on calm reflection, recognize the differences between those of us who run for public office and hold public office, and while we may all decry the kinds of personal attacks that have become all too common in political campaigns, it is a difference in kind for MoveOn.org and those who support them to make personal attacks against a four star general in the U.S. military commanding 170,000 American military service members in a war zone in Iraq," Cornyn said.

During the debate, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) took a different tack than any of his Senate colleagues. He said the debate was a distraction 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, Cornyn's amendment passed overwhelmingly. The final vote was 72 to 25, with all of the opposition coming from within Democratic ranks, including the Senate's most progressive lawmakers. Yet with significant Democratic support the Senate voted to attach an amendment to legislation setting policy for the Defense Department for fiscal 2008 that condemned a political ad put forth by the liberal advocacy group Moveon.org calling the top military commander in Iraq "Gen. Betray Us."

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