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Palin's jab at Obama's Senate record misses target

The statement

"Barack Obama had 150 days in the U.S. Senate where he was able to vote quite often present."

Sarah Palin on Saturday in an interview with FoxNews.com

The ruling

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin reprised a Republican talking point Saturday from the 2008 presidential campaign by criticizing President Barack Obama for his lack of executive experience.

"I mean Barack Obama had 150 days in the U.S. Senate where he was able to vote quite often present, not have to make decisions, being one of many, not having to manage. … You have to make quick decisions in many respects, and I think that President Obama, with all due respect, his lack of experience is really made manifest in the way that decisions are made in the White House today."

We wanted to examine the claim that Obama often voted "present" in the U.S. Senate.

We should point out that Palin's phrasing is a bit unclear. Does she mean that Obama spent only 150 days in the U.S. Senate — an argument that dovetails not just with the 2008 argument that Obama was young and inexperienced but with the (accurate) argument that he missed a lot of votes while running for president?

If that's what she meant, she is incorrect. There are no statistics on day-by-day attendance for senators, but we approximated the bare minimum number of days that Obama was in the chamber by counting the number of days that he cast a vote. (In the Senate, votes cannot be cast remotely.) While it's true that Obama's absentee rate skyrocketed in the third and fourth years of his term, when he was running for president, we found that he cast votes on more than 180 separate days in 2005 and 2006, combined. And that undercounts his total days on the job, because the Senate does not necessarily vote every day that it's in session.

So, what about Palin's claim that Obama had 150 "present" votes in the U.S. Senate? The claim harkens back to the (again, accurate) charge that Obama frequently voted "present" when he was a state senator in Illinois.

Obama acknowledged voting "present" — a vote similar in its effect to "abstain" — 129 times during his eight-year state Senate tenure, according to a Boston Globe fact-check at the time.

But, again, this is the Illinois legislature, not the U.S. Senate.

We checked all of Obama's votes in the U.S. Senate and found not a single "present" vote.

So Palin initially appears to suggest that Obama had only 150 days of experience in the U.S. Senate, which is inaccurate. She then says he voted present many times in the U.S. Senate, which also is not correct. We find her statement False.

PolitiFact staff writer Louis Jacobson. This ruling has been edited for print. For the full ruling — and others — see PolitiFact.com.

Palin's jab at Obama's Senate record misses target 02/08/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 8, 2010 11:44pm]
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