From WashingtonPost.com on March 24, 2008: "After weeks of arduous negotiations, on April 6, 2006, a bipartisan group of senators burst out of the "President's Room," just off the Senate chamber, with a deal on new immigration policy.
As the half-dozen senators -- including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) -- headed to announce their plan, they met Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who made a request common when Capitol Hill news conferences are in the offing: "Hey, guys, can I come along?" And when Obama went before the microphones, he was generous with his list of senators to congratulate -- a list that included himself.
"I want to cite Lindsey Graham, Sam Brownback, Mel Martinez, Ken Salazar, myself, Dick Durbin, Joe Lieberman . . . who've actually had to wake up early to try to hammer this stuff out," he said.
To Senate staff members, who had been arriving for 7 a.m. negotiating sessions for weeks, it was a galling moment. Those morning sessions had attracted just three to four senators a side, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) recalled, each deeply involved in the issue. Obama was not one of them. But in a presidential contest involving three sitting senators, embellishment of legislative records may be an inevitability, Specter said with a shrug.
Unlike governors, business leaders or vice presidents, senators -- the last to win the presidency was John F. Kennedy in 1960 -- are not executives. They cannot be held to account for the state of their states, their companies or their administrations. What they do have is the mark they leave on the nation's laws -- and in Obama's brief three-year tenure, as well as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's seven-year hitch, those marks are far from indelible.
"It's not an unusual matter for senators to take a little extra credit," Specter said.
Immigration is a case in point for Obama, but not the only one. In 2007, after the first comprehensive immigration bill had died, the senators were back at it, and again, Obama was notably absent, staffers and senators said. At one meeting, three key negotiators recalled, he entered late and raised a number of questions about the bill's employment verification system. Kennedy and Specter both rebuked him, saying that the issue had already been resolved and that he was coming late to the discussion. Kennedy dressed him down, according to witnesses, and Obama left shortly thereafter.
"Senator Obama came in late, brought up issues that had been hashed and rehashed," Specter recalled. "He didn't stay long."
Just this week, as the financial markets were roiling in the wake of the Bear Stearns collapse, Obama made another claim that was greeted with disbelief in some corners of Capitol Hill. On March 13, Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, unveiled legislative proposals to allow the Federal Housing Administration to guarantee new loans from banks willing to help homeowners in or approaching foreclosure. Obama and Clinton were in Washington for a day-long round of budget voting, but neither appeared at the housing news conference.
Yet Obama on Monday appeared to seek top billing on Dodd's proposal.
"At this moment, we must come together and act to address the housing crisis that set this downturn in motion and continues to eat away at the public's confidence in the market," Obama said. "We should pass the legislation I put forward with my colleague Chris Dodd to create meaningful incentives for lenders to buy or refinance existing mortgages so that Americans facing foreclosure can keep their homes."
Dodd did say that Obama supported the bill, as does Clinton. But he could not offer pride of authorship to the candidate he wants to see in the White House next year.
"I've talked to him about it at some length," Dodd said. "When Senator Obama was there for that full day of voting, we had long conversations about it. He had excellent questions and decided to support it."