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Ed Morrissey’s Being [Sort Of] Unfair To Obama (Updated)
Posted by: MichaelW on Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I guess I'm pushing my luck today. Ed's not being entirely unfair, but the shot he's taking at Obama is, er, under-informed:
Maybe now we know why Barack Obama never called a meeting of his subcommittee on European relations to discuss the NATO effort in Afghanistan. Apparently, Obama is confused about his own committee assignments. In Israel, Obama tried to claim a little credit for work on a bill done by the Senate Banking Committee — on which he does not serve ... The bill calls for divestment from Iran, a common-sense plan that has wide bipartisan support. Obama clearly wanted to claim credit for this effort, but as the Senate website clearly shows, Obama doesn’t belong on the Banking committee. Nor is Obama on any of the subcommittees.
Obama really did refer to the Banking Subcommittee as "my committee", and he's really not on it. However, the bill just passed really did adopt provisions of a bill sponsored by Barack Obama last year:
U.S. Senator Barack Obama today applauded the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee's passage of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2008, which includes provisions Obama offered last year in the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007 (S. 1430). The Obama provisions clarify that state and local governments can divest from companies that invest $20 million or more in Iran's energy sector and provide safe harbor for private fund managers who divest from such companies. The Committee approved the measure by a vote of 19 to 2.

"Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a vital national security priority. In addition to an aggressive, direct, and principled diplomatic effort, we must continue to increase economic pressure on Iran to convince its government to halt its nuclear program, support for terrorist activity, and threats toward Israel.

"This important bipartisan legislation will allow state and local governments and private fund managers to divest from companies that support Iran's energy sector, reducing the revenue Iran uses to expand its nuclear program and sponsor terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

"I commend Chairman Dodd for his leadership on this important issue, and I call on the Senate to quickly pass this legislation."
Here's Obama's bill (S. 1430), and here's the Dodd-Shelby Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2008. They aren't exactly the same, but in my quick review it appeared that much of what Obama proposed was put into the Dodd-Shelby bill. There are some important similarities, such as the fact that both bills seem to think that the federal government needs to give permission to state and local legislatures to divest from Iranian sources of income. Obama's bill states that:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a State or local government may adopt and enforce measures to divest the assets of the State or local government from, or prohibit investment of the assets of the State or local government in, persons that are included on the most recent list published under section 3(a)(1), as modified under section 3(a)(4).
The Dodd-Shelby bill clarifies that this isn't a mandate, but still operates under the impression that the federal government has to authorize these divestitures:
Patterned after legislation enacted last year to enable divestment from firms investing in certain sectors in Sudan, the Chairman’s mark gives authority to State and local governments to divest from any company that invests $20 million or more in the energy sector in Iran, or extends $20 million or more in credit to be used for investment in the energy sector in Iran. While not mandating divestment, this authorization is designed to recognize that investors may have moral, prudential or reputational reasons to divest from companies that accept the substantial business risk of operating in countries subject to international economic sanctions.
The main difference between the two pieces of legislation is that the Dodd-Shelby piece actually looks more like a bill, whereas Obama's effort is crafted as a final statute, and the Dodd-Shelby bill is much more comprehensive.

That being said, Ed is exactly right about Obama not being on the committee that passed the bill, and he shouldn't have referred to it as "my committee." Perhaps he meant "that's my side of the Legislature's committee", or something else innocuous. Clearly he wanted to claim credit for the divestiture portion of the bill, which he is clearly entitled to do, in order to show that he's a friend to Israel, and not at all a fan of Iran. In fact, if you read his bill, you can see why he would call attention to it when it includes gems like the following:
Congress finds as follows: ... (3) On October 27, 2005, at the World Without Zionism Conference in Tehran, Iran, the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called for Israel to be `wiped off the map,' described Israel as `a disgraceful blot [on] the face of the Islamic world,' and declared that `[a]nybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury.' President Ahmadinejad has subsequently made similar types of comments.
Politically speaking, it's a smart move on Obama's part, since I doubt many people would know he had sponsored such legislation otherwise.

Even so, I do agree with Ed that Obama shouldn't have referred to it as his committee. It may possibly speak to Obama's arrogance, but given the benefit he stands to derive from calling attention to his bill, it was probably worth it.

UPDATE: CNN provides the damnable quote under the headline "Obama incorrectly claims membership of Senate committee" — yeah, "incorrectly," that's what we'll call it. Here's the quote:
“Just this past week, we passed out of the out of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee - which is my committee - a bill to call for divestment from Iran as way of ratcheting up the pressure to ensure that they don’t obtain a nuclear weapon,”
So, it wasn't just "my committee", but also "we passed." That makes Ed's, and others', criticisms a more fair. Obama's excuse, however, doesn't seem to hold water given the full quote:
An Obama spokesman tells CNN “it was his bill, not his committee,” referring to the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act that the Illinois senator sponsored and introduced in May 2007. The measure was then referred to the Banking Committee, and passed a vote of 19-2 on July 17.
That doesn't explain what he meant by "we passed." He was "incorrect" about that too, in case you're keeping score.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I seem to recall a court case last year in which a city’s attempt to enforce some sort of sanctions (Miami Beach?—can’t remember any details)regarding Cuba was slapped down on the grounds that interfered with FedGov control of foreign policy. If so, then the federal permission is in fact necessary.
Written By: kishnevi
If so, then the federal permission is in fact necessary.
Federal permission would likely be necessary to prevent OTHERS from investing in a foreign country, but none should be necessary for a state to decide that it wants to divest. The federal government certainly can’t require the states to make such an investment, and I can’t think of any reason whatsoever that a state would need such permission to divest.
Written By: MichaelW
And here’s a case where sticking to the truth would have been sufficient, but his "inartful" phrasing makes him appear arrogant, or at the least, overly boastful. Of course, if he had just stuck to the truth, it wouldn’t have been carried in the media as much as it has.
Written By: Keith_Indy
Heck, cut the man some slack. It’s understandable he doesn’t know what committees he’s on. He hasn’t been in the Senate that long and doesn’t go to the committee meetings anyway.
Written By: Dave Schuler
You really go out of your way not to offend the captain. I’m thinking you don’t need to do that.

Good piece.
Written By: Damozel
URL: http://
MichaelW, thanks for the very fair post. Just a legal note:

Divestiture for political reasons gets into foreign policy, which Constitutionally is under the sole purview of the federal government. See NFTC vs. Crosby, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Massachusetts’s decision to push divestment hindered the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy effectively.

In that case, Massachusetts said that any company that stayed in Sudan couldn’t do business with the state government. That’s somewhat different from the state’s own investments, where the state could argue that it was acting not governmentally but as an participant in the marketplace. An investor or buyer of goods and services has the right to decide where to spend or not spend money, and a state can prefer to do business with its own residents, for example.

However, because divestment is pretty inherently a politically-driven decision rather than being based on economics, it’s likely to be seen by the Court as overreaching into foreign policy. When states divest from Iran and Sudan nowadays, or South Africa in the 1980s, it’s because they want to change the government, which is an impermissible foreign policy aim. When they were "divesting" from Southeast Asia in the late 1990s, it was because the collapsing economies made it a bad short-term investment. It might fail even rational basis for a state to claim that it’s just not making money in Iranian oil these days and that’s why it’s divesting.

To avoid that problem, particularly considering that the Bush Administration has not been consistently in favor of divestiture legislation, Congress specifically says that they don’t mind having states divest from Iran for foreign-policy driven reasons. That’s why Obama’s provision was an important one, to avoid constitutional litigation (especially that brought by private parties) over divestment.

Or to put it more briefly, con law geeks, w00t!
Written By: PG

Thanks for the info. I can see now where the decision to divest could invite Constitutional scrutiny, even though it seems patently unconstitutional to me for the federal government to tell the states what to do with their own money. Either way, your post was highly informative, so thanks!
Written By: MichaelW

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