Friday, January 16, 2009

Tester press release says one thing, vote says another [UPDATED AND EXPLAINED]

Let me be clear: Jon Tester, Democrat from Montana, is one of my favorite politicians. The guy is amazing. While interning for Montana's other senator last spring, I had the chance to meet Tester twice and watch him interact with lobbyists and other politicians. His personality, memory, and values are all exactly what you want in a United States Senator. The members of his staff whom I had occasion to work with were also professional and impressive.

But, something troubles me. According to NBC's daily First Read newsletter, nine Democratic senators voted for a resolution that would deny Barack Obama's request for access to the second half of the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry. They were: Evan Bayh, Maria Cantwell, Byron Dorgan, Russ Feingold, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Jeanne Shaheen, Bernie Sanders (technically an Independent), and Ron Wyden. Notice, Jon Tester is not on that list. I checked the vote's official roll call to see for myself, and sure enough, those nine, and only those nine among Democrats, voted against releasing the bailout money. Two other senators - Tester and Republican of Utah Orrin Hatch - voted "present" rather than aye or nay.

A present vote is rare, so I checked Tester's website to see if he had an explanation. Sure enough, there was a press release, but it didn't explain his "present" vote. In fact, it claimed he voted another way entirely. [UPDATE 5:11pm: As I suspected and implied in this post, it turns out there was a valid explanation for this contradiction. The problem was not with Tester's vote but with the wording of his press release. Read on, but be sure to read the new last paragraph. End Update.]
Tester says NO to more bailout money: Senator calls for ‘more jobs, not more bailouts’

Senator Jon Tester today released the following statement after voting against releasing the second half of the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street.

“Montana and America need more jobs, not more bailouts. I voted against the Wall Street bailout because I had major concerns about the unprecedented cost to taxpayers and the lack of accountability. I’m still concerned.

“It’s time to rebuild our economy from the ground up by investing in jobs and long-term infrastructure that will repay us for generations to come. I look forward to working with the new President and the new Congress to get the job done.”

Perhaps, for the purposes of this vote, "present" was procedurally the same as or similar to an "aye" vote (the resolution would prevent the release of funds, so voting "aye" was saying nay). Maybe Tester changed his mind on how to vote without informing his press person, and a pre-written press release didn't get the kibosh. Or perhaps, still in his freshman term, Tester made some sort of technical mistake when casting his vote and meant to vote "aye" rather than "present" - it's happened before, albeit more often in the House than in the Senate. There are a number of possible explanations, and Tester is as honest and impressive as they come. I'm not going to try to judge him over this just yet, and even if it is an intentional contradiction, it's not enough to tar him in my eyes. Nevertheless, all I know is that his press release says he voted "aye," but the vote was recorded as "present."

Update 5:11pm Several commenters have explained the reason for Tester's vote: he and Sen. Hatch made an agreement with Senators Brown and Kennedy, who wanted to vote against the resolution but could not attend the vote. To accomodate their nays, Tester and Hatch switched their ayes to presents. That makes sense - as I said, Tester's a good guy who wouldn't lie in a press release, and of course a good guy would also help his colleagues. Had it occured to me to check the news reports rather than just the official assumedly-trustworthy statements, I would have realized that before making this post. I'll still say this, though: while it may not be a problem worthy of a blog post, it was an awkwardly-written press release as it did imply Tester voted aye. This kind of explanation should be available from Tester's office, not just the AP.


Anonymous said...

This AP article explains Tester's vote. It was out of an agreement with Sherrod Brown and Ted Kennedy, who wanted to vote against the bill but could not make it to the Senate.

sikatrix said...

This is technically wrong as Tester actually casted a paired vote with Sen. Brown D-OH. Which means that there votes canceled.
Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., did not vote in an arranged plan to neutralize the absences of Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. Brown and Kennedy would have voted to release the money; Tester and Hatch would have voted to block it.

Anonymous said...

This AP article explains why. He voted the way he did, to trade with absent Sen. Brown.

Kind of lame. Shouldn't he vote to represent Montana, and not Sen. Brown?

Anonymous said...

Actually, a "present" vote is closer to a "no" because your vote is not part of the count of "yeses" needed to pass a bill.

If a bill is a tie, it loses. You don't add the present vote to break the tie.

Nathan Empsall said...

Thanks, everyone. I've updated the post to reflect this explanation, and deleted the cross-posted diary at MyDD.

Still, it's pretty cool to get a link from Kos himself. :)